11 Dec 2018 - Source: Myanmar Times - Shan communities and local members of parliaments have renewed their opposition to two dams being built in Namtu and Nam Teng rivers in Shan State and are calling for the immediate halt of their construction.
The residents, civil society groups and local legislators have expressed opposition to the dam since the project was first proposed by the previous military-backed government.
Nang Lao Kham, a resident of Ta Long Village, said that every time they seek a halt to the project, the response of the government is to increase the budget for the projects.
"The dam projects could have devastating social and environmental impacts that will worsen the ongoing conflict as the sites are situated in a conflict area," she said, adding that the construction of both dams started without consulting local residents who will be affected by the project.
Villagers in Hsipaw – where fighting still rages today -- have repeatedly petitioned to stop the Upper Yeywa Dam on the Namtu River but efforts by Shan MPs to oppose the dam have been voted down in parliament.
"I asked to the Deputy Energy Minister U Tun Naing about the consequences of the dam projects amid evidence that the construction of the dam was sub-standard. In 2015, the dam's foundations were washed away by heavy flooding. This year, concrete slope reinforcement beside the dam collapsed," said Sai Thant Zin, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy MP for Hsipaw.
"But he ignored my questions and declined to cancel the dam project," Sai Thant Zin added.
"They don't care about the potential social and environmental impacts, including the possibility the dam could fail," he said.
Shan communities are also appealing to foreign governments and investors not to support dam construction in Shan State. Companies from Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Japan and China are involved in dam projects on the Namtu and Nam Teng rivers.
"Our rivers have been the lifeblood of our communities for centuries, but are now being dammed and sold off by the government. This is directly fuelling the conflict," said Sai Khur Hseng of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation.
"We are calling for a moratorium on all dam building in Shan State, including immediate cancellation of the Upper Yeywa and Upper Kengtawng dams," he said.
The Kengtawng hydropower project, which was completed in 2009 under the military rule was built above the famous Kengtawng waterfalls. The project has forever destroyed the natural beauty of the cherished landmark, and adversely affected the fishing grounds of locals.
The Upper Kengtawng dam is poised to have much greater impacts, threatening the health and livelihoods of thousands of villagers downstream in eastern Mong Nai and Larngkhur.
The Nam Teng and Namtu rivers both have rich historical and cultural significance for Shan. Ancient stupas line their banks, and Kengtawng is the birthplace of the hero of the beloved folk-tale "Khun Sarm Law and Nang Oo Peim," known as the Shan version of the tragic lovers Romeo and Juliet.
The Upper Yeywa dam is being built on the Namtu/Myitnge river in Kyaukme Township. The planned reservoir will stretch for over 60 kilometers, and is expected to submerge the village of Talong, with 653 inhabitants, temples, pagodas, and schools, as well as 258 hectares of orchards, 57 hectares of rice fields, and countless hill farms.
The project was started in 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2020.
The Upper Yeywa dam project is one of four controversial dams planned on the Namtu River, which is an active conflict zone. Companies from China, Japan, Switzerland and Germany are involved in the project.