Kayah State locals protest dam project
About 500 residents of Bawlakhe township yesterday protested a dam project on a nearby stream, which they say has proceeded with a complete lack of transparency.
ABOUT 500 residents of Bawlakhe township, Kayah State, yesterday protested plans to build a dam on Pwunchaung Stream, as water and soil examination continues.
Transparency and environmental impact are the major concerns for the protestors, who already sent letters to the president and state counsellor with their signatures attached in August.
U Win Oo, a protest organiser, said the project is so secretive that they have only recently learned of its existence.
“We were told that the project’s preliminary tasks started in 2014,” he said. “At that time, we did not hear anything. This is very bad. How can such a hydropower project be started without letting the public know first?”
According to local civil society groups, the proposed 139-megawatt dam project, known as Upper Hawkham, is backed by three companies, including one in Myanmar and one in Singapore. The state minister for electricity was unreachable for confirmation yesterday.
The site is located about 5 miles (8 kilometres) north of Bawlakhe town, said U Win Oo.
“It is surrounded by farmlands, mostly cultivated with sesame,” he said. “The total area, I think, would be more than 7000 acres.”
Daw Mi Mi Maw, another protest organiser, said the government must be honest with locals about the project.
“The companies investing in the project have never done any public consultation,” she said. “This is ugly.”
Locals were unaware of the project until large machinery and vehicles showed up in March, she said. She could not tell whether or not the project had actually started.
Last week, the Kayah State minister for electricity met with residents in Bawlakhe township and spoke about the project publicly for the first time.
The minister calmed the residents, stressing that electricity is essential to the development of the region, Daw Mi Mi Maw said.
“We replied that the government should find alternatives to hydropower, like wind or solar energy,” she said.
Daw Mi Mi Maw said the public believes that the electricity would be sold to neighbouring countries, rather than used domestically.
The memorandum of understanding for the project, according to Daw Mi Mi Maw, was signed between the government and the companies last October.
While meeting with the legislative head of Kayah State, U Hla Htwe, on October 9, the Bawlakhe township residents presented their dissatisfaction with the project. The state parliament’s chief pledged that he would try to push the issue with the will of the residents in mind.
Kayah State’s Chief Minister Alfonshio was unreachable for comments yesterday.
The head of the National League for Democracy’s Kayah State branch, Daw Khin Si Thu, said the project should not be continued if local people do not like it.
“In my personal view, this project is not transparent,” she said. “They have never clearly told people about the impacts the dam will have on residents and on the environment. Hydropower projects should be handled by those who are real experts on this subject.”
She said her party’s policy was clear: If the people do not agree with the proposed project, then it should not go on.
At the end of August, about 1500 local residents signed a petition that was sent to President U Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, asking the leaders to abolish the plan to build a dam on the stream. The leaders have not responded yet.