The Mega-dam projects in Kayah (Karenni) State need explaining

Proposed location of the Nam Pawn Dam ၊ Near SawLone and HawKam Villages, Bawlakhe Township


The Mega-Dam Projects in Kayah (Karenni) State Need Explaining

By Khon Soe Moe Aung, Kayah Earthrights Action Network


Local people have many concerns about proposed dams on the Salween River (Ywarthit Dam), Nam Pawn Creek (Nam Pawn Dam) and Nam TaBet Creek (Nam TaBet Dam) in Kayah (Karenni) State.


The local people demand to know:

“Why are they building more dams? “Is there not enough electricity for our state from the existing LawPiTa Hydropower Plant?”
“Who gave permission to build dams?”
“How big are these dam projects? How will they be built?”
“What is the general publics opinion?”
“What will be the extent of the impact? Who will take responsibility for this impact?”


The local people especially desire a clear explanation of whether these dam projects will be implemented or canceled in the current era of the democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government.


Myanmar’s current electricity demand presents a challenge for the government as electricity is essential for the state and for local development in every sector. According to international research, Myanmar will require 8,815 Megawatts of electricity in 2020 but currently only produces 5,029 Megawatts. Amongst the many resources available to satisfy Myanmar’s electrical needs, the government’s main focus appears to be on hydro-power as evidenced by the proposed mega-dam projects. Significantly, these these mega-dam projects are proposed in indigenous ethnic minority regions; this makes the projects appear as a method of political, economic and social manipulation.


Three of these mega-dam projects are proposed in Kayah (Karenni) State; the 4500 Megawatts Ywarthit Dam, the 139 Megawatts Nam Pawn Dam and the 180 Megawatts Nam Tabet Dam. These dams will have a total production capacity of 4819 Megawatts. The citizens of Kayah (Karenni) State have the right to an accurate and full response from the relevant stakeholders detailing the recipients of these 4819 Megawatts. Moreover for these mega-dam projects, the government and investors must explain clearly about Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (EIA/SIA), Resettlement Plans, Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), Accountability, Transparency and the Rehabilitation Plan to the concerned communities.


The government’s failure to act transparently in the planning process for the proposed mega-dams in Kayah (Karenni) State is not only causing increased concern among local people but is further abusing the local people’s basic right to information. The local people are afraid that from the impacts of these mega-dam projects, they will lose their lifestyle and existence on the land, mountains, streams and sacred places of their ancestors.


The local people’s fears and opposition are shaped from direct experience of the impacts of dam projects. In 1968, the Mobye Dam and LawPiTa Hydroelectric Plant, current supplier of 24% of Myanmar’s hydroelectricity, was constructed in Kayah (Karenni) State. The creation of the Mobye Dam flooded 5,000 acres of farmland and resulted in the forced relocation of 38 villages. Until today, some of these villages are yet to receive any benefit from the project. Local people in Kayah (Karenni) State are constantly aware of this experience and any observer can acknowledge the logic behind their opposition to future projects.


For the coming projects among the indigenous villagers, they constantly seek further answers:
“Are dams the best solution for Myanmar’s electrical needs?”
“Is building dams the only way? Are there no other ways to access electricity?”


Protest against the Nam Pawn Dam on October 11th 2016

The current National League for Democracy (NLD) government must analyse these projects. Section 2 of their 2015 election manifesto states regarding energy issues: “The construction of the large dams required for the production of hydropower causes major environmental harm. For this reason, we will generate electricity from existing hydropower projects, and repair and maintain the existing dams to enable greater efficiency.”.

Moreover, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government must explain transparently about all mega-dam projects. Section 6 of their 2015 Election Manifesto regarding the economy states “Where there is natural resource extraction and usage, we will lay down appropriate methods so as to avoid environmental and ecological damage. We will work to ensure that extractive projects are planned transparently and that the public is informed”.


According to the 2015 motto of the National League for Democracy (NLD), it is time for change. We believe that the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government can replace the local people of Kayah (Karenni) State’s fear of proposed mega-dam projects with absolute safety and security in their lives.