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NGOs protest IFC’s mega-dam workshops

A scene on the Salween River. (PHOTO: DVB)

Two of the country’s major environmental groups, Burma Rivers Network (BRN) and Salween Conservation Network (SCN), have protested a plan by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to hold workshops across Burma to promote hydroelectric dam proposals.

A branch of the World Bank, the IFC has announced workshops starting today in Rangoon, followed by further seminars in Kachin State capital Myitkyina on 31 January, and Karenni capital Loikaw on 3 February.

The SCN’s Saw Boe Tha told DVB today that the volatile situation in the areas in question renders plans for dam construction unsuitable at this time.

“If we are going to build a federal system, we want peace to be the first priority,” he said. “We are not opposed to the principle of workshops, but in this case the voices of civil society will not be heard. They [proponents of dam-building] do not truly understand the sensitive and delicate situation in these regions.”

The two NGOs released a joint-statement, saying that any mega-dam construction on Burma’s major rivers would prolong and exacerbate the civil war.

Ongoing hostilities between Burmese government forces and various ethnic armed groups have compelled thousands of people to flee their homes over the last year.

The NGO statement added that Burma’s current constitution makes no provisions for local peoples to manage natural resources.

BRN and SCN comprise various other civic and youth organizations, including groups representing Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon, Shan, Kuki, Pa-O, Arakan, Lahu and Akha nationalities.

Various proposals have been launched for the construction of mega-dam projects on the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers, which both run through ethnic regions where conflict is rife. Critics also slam the plans because up to 90 percent of all electricity generated at the dams is slated to be exported to China and Thailand.