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China plans 13 dams on Salween

Activists fear adverse impact downstream

Thursday 18 December 2003 Bangkok Post,   Kultida Samabuddhi Yuthana Praiwan

More than 80 environmental, human rights and ethnic groups in Thailand and
Burma have called on China to consult countries downstream of the Salween
river before going ahead with its plan to build 13 large hydro-power dams.

The dams, planned for the upper part of the river in China's Yunnan
province, would severely damage the ecosystem and livelihood of people in
Thailand and Burma, who depended on the 2,800km-long river for fishing and
farming, they said.

The groups handed a protest letter to the Chinese embassy in Bangkok on

The Salween, called Nu Jiang by the Chinese, originates high in the
Tibetan mountains. It flows through Yunnan into Burma and forms part of Thailand's
northern border with Burma before emptying into the Andaman sea. It is
Southeast Asia's second largest river after the Mekong.

``Before making decisions on any dam projects, there should be consensus
among the riparian countries on the terms of environmental and social
impact assessments,'' the groups said in their protest letter.

``China is going to exploit the Salween, which is the last free-flowing
international river in the region, like they already did to the Mekong
river,'' said Chainarong Sretthachau, director of the Chiang Mai-based
Southeast Asia Rivers Network.

``The downstream Mekong countries, including Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and
Cambodia, have already suffered from the impacts of Chinese dams upstream.
For example, a 60% decrease in fish stock, river bank erosions and severe
water fluctuations.

``Downstream people do not want such damage to be repeated on the Salween
river. That's why we are calling on the Chinese government to suspend the
project immediately,'' he said.

Mr Chainarong said the dams would block fresh supplies of nutrients and
fish species, which were vital resources for downstream fishing and for
fertilising large areas of cultivated land.

An environmental impact assessment was done only in China despite the fact
the dams would affect the environment and livelihood of people in Thailand
and Burma, he said.

Mr Chainarong quoted the Yunnan Daily newspaper as reporting that the 13
dams would have a combined capacity of 21,320 megawatts, and that they
were expected to be completed in 20 years.

Surapol Pattani, director of the Water Resources Department's policy and
planning office, professed no knowledge of the Chinese plan.

However, he said there was nothing the people downstream could do since
the dams would be located in Chinese territory.

China, Burma and Thailand have no agreement on the utilisation of this
transboundary river, thus allowing each of them free use of the river.

Mr Surapol also believed the dams could be beneficial to both Thailand and
Burma ``because they would slow down floodwater in the wet season and ease
drought in the dry season when the dams release water for electricity

Thailand and Burma also plan to jointly build hydro-power dams along parts
of the Salween river they share.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has proposed building two
dams, with the capacity to generate 4,540 megawatts and 792 megawatts
respectively. Their construction would put at least 20,000 rai of prime
forest in Thailand's Salween national park under water.



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