Impacts of the Upper Yeywa and other planned dams on the Namtu in Shan State
A report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation, Shan State Farmers’ Network and Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization
Four new hydropower dams are planned on the Namtu (Myitnge or Dokhtawaddy) River, three of which are in conflict areas of Shan State.
This cascade of dams will have serious impacts on the ecology of the river, including disruption of fish spawning and migration patterns are likely to negatively impact the rich fish stocks upon which thousands of Hsipaw villagers rely. Toxins from mining upstream are also likely to build up in the reservoirs, endangering aquatic life and the health of those relying on the river. Methane emitted from rotting vegetation in the reservoirs will also contribute to global warming.
Another serious concern for villagers living below the planned Namtu Dam in Hsipaw will be the unpredictable fluctuations in water level due to the operation of the dam, and risk of sudden surges causing accidents along the river bank. If there is heavy rainfall, large amounts of water may have to be released, causing flooding downstream.
Even more worrying is the possibility of dam breakage, due to pressure from abnormally heavy rainfall, landslides or earthquakes. The Middle Yeywa dam is being planned over the Kyaukkyan fault line, the centre of the biggest earthquake in Burma’s history in 1912, measuring about 8 on the Richter scale.
Finally, it is highly unwise for Naypyidaw to be pushing through these risky, untransparent dam projects in active conflict zones. Since early 2016, fighting has intensified in Shan townships where these dams are planned. With Naypyidaw’s monopoly over natural resources being a key driver of the ethnic conflict, forging ahead with damaging hydropower projects over the heads of local ethnic communities will only fuel resentment and exacerbate the conflict.