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Lawpita and Mobye dam, Balu Chaung River, Karenni state, Myanmar

Burma’s first large-scale hydropower project promised ‘progress’ but brought militarization, human rights abuses and livelihood loss to the Karenni people. Civil society groups say, the dam project must serve as a warning for future hydropower plans.


The Lawpita dam on the Balu Chaung river (Karenni state) was the first large-scale hydropower project constructed in Burma. It was initiated after World War with support from Japan, as part of a historic war reparation agreement between the two countries. While the project, developed under Burma’s military dictatorship, promised much ‘progress’, devastating consequences on the ground were documented by a report published about 50 years after the agreement was signed. Released in 2006 by the civil society group Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG), the report unveiled the severe social and ecological impacts and human rights abuses caused in relation to the dam project. This entry is a brief summary of the findings from the KDRG report “Dammed by Burma’s Generals” [see 1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Lawpita and Mobye dam, Balu Chaung River, Karenni state, Myanmar
State or province:Karenni state
Location of conflict:Lawpita
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Military installations
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The hydropower plants are constructed on the Balu Chaung River, which is a tributary to the Pawn River. Pawn River itself is a tributary of the Salween River. Before the plant was constructed, Balu Chaung river descendent about 670 into deep Pawn River valley, creating spectacular waterfalls [1].

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Project area:20,700 ha (reservoir size)
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:12,558 people displaced, many more affected through livelihood changes
Start of the conflict:1954
Company names or state enterprises:Nippon Koei from Japan
Kajima Corporation from Japan - developer
Relevant government actors:Burma's military government
International and Finance InstitutionsJapan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (JICA) from Japan
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from Japan
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Anti-Dam Construction Committee (during the construction)
Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) (following completion, to document the consequences of this project)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
ethnic Karenni people
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Land occupation
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsThe project was implemented under Burma military dictatorship and militarisation of the area to secure the dam caused sexual violence, human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings [1].
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Other socio-economic impactsFollowing militarization of the area, women were commonly forced to marry soldiers stationed at the site to secure the dam [1]
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Notes: Compensation payments were often refused because of being insignificant to the damages caused. Violent clashes and deaths occurred during the dam development between the troops of the military dictatorship and armed resistance groups.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The dam came with severe social and environmental impacts on local people. No adequate efforts to repair damages caused were made. The project continues to operate.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] KDRG 2006 "Dammed by Burma's Generals: The Karenni Experience with Hydropower Development - From Lawpita to the Salween" Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG). (accessed online 04.05.2018)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] Nippon Koei Company Webpage on the Balu Chaung No.2 Hydropower plant (accessed online 07.05.2018)
[click to view]

[4] JICA Press Release "Japan-Myanmar renewed 60-year long ties over historic power station" (accessed online 07.05.2018).
[click to view]

[2] Burma Rivers Network on the Lawpita Hydropower Project (accessed online 07.05.2018).
[click to view]

[5] Salween Watch Coalition, March 2016 "Current Status of Dam Projects on the Salween River" (accessed online 03.05.2018).
[click to view]

[6] The Irrawaddy, 19 January 2015 "Civil Society Organizations Call for Halt to Salween Dam Projects". (accessed online 03.05.2018).
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update15/05/2018
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