Shan State Villagers Refuse to Meet Govt Officials Defending Upper Yeywa Dam

Tuesday, December 4, 2019

Villagers refused to allow a government delegation that included Shan State’s electricity and energy minister into their community to discuss the controversial Upper Yeywa dam on Sunday.

The 700 residents of Tar Lon, located in Hsipaw Township on the banks of the Namtu River, stand to be displaced by flooding if the Upper Yeywa dam is constructed on the same waterway 25 kilometers away.

“We have opposed it for so long. We don’t need to discuss it,” Tar Lon villager Nang Lao Kham said, referring to the Upper Yeywa dam. “[Government officials] visited our village one time when we were fleeing from clashes. It was not the right time for a meeting,” she added.

The area is still experiencing active conflict between the Burma Army and ethnic armed organizations.

Nang Lao Kham said that the government officials had already been informed that the villagers “would not accept them” if they came to hold talks. When they arrived, she explained, the residents gathered at the entrance to the village to block them from coming in.

Minister Sai Hseng Tip Lon, who headed the visiting delegation, told villagers that all projects had “negative and positive impacts” and suggested that these issues could not be resolved through protest. He also said that the government would continue to move forward with the Upper Yeywa dam.

Villagers said that this argument only reinforced their position and that they would continue to stand against the hydropower project.

“In this case, the negative impacts are much more than the positive. Therefore we oppose it,” Nang Lao Kham told NMG, repeating the statement she made to the minister on November 24.

Parliamentarian for Hsipaw’s Constituency (1) Nang San San Aye was not at the protest in Tar Lon, but told NMG that she “stand[s] with the local people.” The government, she said, is “trying to implement this without considering the local people.”

The MP also called for greater government transparency around the project, and for consideration about how to reduce the proposed electricity output or water level in the dam to protect villages from flooding.

According to Shan State parliamentarians, the damming of the Namtu has repeatedly been raised in the state legislature. However, since the Upper Yeywa is a Union-level project, members of the state government tell MPs they cannot address concerns about it in state parliamentary meetings.

Backed by Chinese, Japanese, German and Swiss companies, the Upper Yeywa is one of five hydropower dams planned for the Namtu River. All five projects have been widely opposed by locals for their environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

The Middle Yeywa dam project site is located on the Kyaukkyan fault line in Nawng Khio Township in northern Shan State, an issue of concern for many locals.

“For example, take the collapse of the hydropower dam in Laos,” Nang Lao Kham said, referring to the devastating collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy dam last year, which killed dozens. “Geologists had already warned them but they didn’t listen. We are also worried that we will face [a situation] like that.”

She added that locals would “take a lesson from the Myitsone movement,” a struggle that led to the suspension of the Myitsone dam in Kachin State on the confluence of the Irrawaddy River.

Anti-dam activists have called for a halt to the many hydropower dams proposed in northern Shan State, particularly while civil war remains ongoing in the region. Such projects could only be considered and revisited after Burma has built a genuine federal Union and restored peace in the country, they have said.