Salween River Dam Conflict in Myanmar

Myanmar confirmed the approval of six dam projects for the Salween River in 2013. These hydro-electric dams are to be built in conflict zones currently destabilised by civil war between independence groups and the Myanmar Army. The dams have further destabilised conflict areas, causing a flow of refugees across borders.

Conceptual Model

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksFreshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource.Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.Migration/displacements provokes interstate tensions.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.An increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityA, change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesReduced, availability of/ access to land.Increased Land Scarcity(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate TensionsNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups

Conflict history

In 2013, plans for six hydro-electric power dams for the Salween River were approved. These projects are moving forward in places where conflict between ethnic resistance forces and the Myanmar Army exists (International Rivers, 2013). The dams have become a fracture line for violent skirmishes between these forces and have displaced thousands - some of whom have crossed the border into Thailand and China. The projects are shrouded in secrecy, and it is difficult to know the actual extent of the damage of these dams to the environment or to human security.

The importance of the Salween river

The Salween River is 2,800 km long and originates in the Himalaya Mountains, flowing through China’s Yunnan province into Myanmar and Thailand down to the Andaman Sea (Salween Watch, 2014). It is one of the last international free-flowing rivers in the world. The river is home to at least thirteen ethnic groups and boasts rich biodiversity, which sustains the livelihoods of thousands with fishing and cross border trade (FAO, 2011). The dams are being planned and constructed jointly between Chinese corporations, Thailand’s EGAT International Co., Ltd. and Burmese investors (Salween Watch, 2014).

Handling the impact of the dams

Some of these dams will affect Thai and Chinese communities, either by the flow of refugees across borders, or, by the physical impacts of the dam on water and land access. Although there has been some effort by Thai authorities to include public participation in dam development, there has been no attempt in Myanmar and little attempt in China. Environmental impact assessments are secretive, and construction of some dams has started without public notification (Salween Watch, 2014). Recent reports by activists and NGOs, such as International Rivers and Salween Watch, have emphasised the danger of building these dams in war-torn areas in Myanmar. Violent confrontations between warring groups over dam construction sites will hinder dispute resolution of overall conflicts (Noreen, 2013).

There has been no attempt by Burmese authorities or foreign investors to address the grievances of the Burmese people over the dams. Conflict resolution is made particularly difficult because violence over the dams often occurs between already warring rebel groups and the Myanmar Army. Conflict resolution will require a comprehensive approach that also addresses the existing reasons for civil war.

Actors

Actor
Participation
Functional group
Geographical scale
EGAT International Co. Ltd.
EGAT International Co. Ltd.
Participation
Functional group
Commercial
Geographical scale
External
Army (Myanmar)
Army (Myanmar)
Participation
Functional group
Public
Geographical scale
Internal national
Government of China
Government of China
Participation
Functional group
Public
Geographical scale
Internal national
Government of Myanmar
Government of Myanmar
Participation
Functional group
Public
Geographical scale
Internal national
Government of Thailand
Government of Thailand
Participation
Functional group
Public
Geographical scale
Internal national
Conflict Party
Conflict Resolution Facilitator