Tanintharyi dam project draws local ire

dam_2 A man walks along the banks of the Tanintharyi River. Indigenous people are calling for a halt to dam projects along the river. The Myanmar Times

15 Aug 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - Indigenous people called for a large dam project to be halted on the Tanintharyi River, based on the findings of two reports released by local people on Friday.

The devastating impact that a proposed 1040-megawatt dam would have on the river and the communities along it were outlined in the report, "Blocking a Bloodline: Indigenous Communities along the Tanintharyi River Fear the Impact of Large-Scale Dams."

Naw Paw Say Wah, director of Candle Light, said they estimate that construction of the dam could displace up to 7000 people in 32 villages along the upstream reaches of the Tanintharyi River.

"This dam will also have serious effects on the lives and livelihoods of over 23,000 people who live downstream of the proposed project," she added.

The dam proposal put forward by Thai-owned GMS Co., along with 17 other dam proposals on the river have been developed without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities, and threaten to destroy their primary source of water, food and transportation, according to the reports.

The report, based on surveys of over 1200 people living along the Tanintharyi River, highlights the importance of the river to community livelihoods, access to water, transportation and cultural practices. It presents the impact that the dam proposals would have on the lives of indigenous people, forests and biodiversity, and the future of peace and stability in the region.

"We local people must be included in all decision-making regarding our territories because we have the knowledge and ability to manage our own resources," said U Ye Aung, a member of Rays of Kamoethway Indigenous People and Nature.

It is important that the deep ecological knowledge of the people living in the Tanintharyi River Basin is recognised and used in conservation initiatives and decision-making regarding hydropower development in the basin.

"If large-scale dam projects go ahead in our territories, then our livelihoods, our cultures, our history and our identity will be erased," Saw Than Naing of Tharabwe East village said.

"The river is the lifeblood of indigenous people in Tanintharyi Region. We depend on it for our food, our water, and our transportation. Without it, we will not be able to survive."

A second report, "Beyond the River: Overcoming Challenges with Indigenous Ecological Knowledge," was released on Friday by indigenous communities and civil society groups in the Tanintharyi River Basin.

It presented facts about 115 fish and aquatic species, compiled over four years by indigenous Karen people living in the basin.

U Ye Aung added that "our efforts to protect fish species contribute to the protection of the entire ecosystem around the Tanintharyi."

In addition, "Beyond the River" stated that the rich biodiversity of the river is crucial for local people's livelihoods, and both would be irreparably harmed by hydropower dam construction in the basin.

"Indigenous people are protecting the river and natural resources, so a platform needed to be created to show their motivation and share their success doing community-based conservation," said Saw Frankie Abreu, director of the Tenasserim River and Indigenous People's Network.

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