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
NameLawpita and Mobye dam, Balu Chaung River, Karenni state, Myanmar
ProvinceKarenni state
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Military installations
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe 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].

The Lawpita hydropower project represents the first and largest run-of-river plant in Myanmar. According to the 2006 KRDN report [1], the Lawpita hydropower project consists of several components and was constructed as follows:

a) the Mobye dam and reservoir, which diverts water to the hydropower plants. This dam is located at the border of Karenni and Shan state. The reservoir covers approx. 20,700 ha and is mainly located in Shan State. Construction initially started in 1962, was then interrupted due to Burma’s political situation and then restarted in 1966. Laborers came from central Burma. The dam was finished in 1970. About 8,000 people in Pekhon Township (Shan State) were forced to move to make way for the reservoir.

b) the Lawpita (Balu Chaung) Hydropower Plant No. 2, to which water is diverted from the dam. The plant is located at the Lawpita falls, about 40 km east of the dam. It was the first plant to become operational and has six generators that operate on a rotational basis to produce 168 MW. It was constructed over two phases: the first was completed in 1960, and the second in 1974.

c) The Dawtacha dam, a smaller dam located closer to the power plants. It was constructed during 1988-1992.

d) The Lawpita (Balu Chaung) Hydropower Plant No. 1, which received water from the Dawtacha dam. Installed capacity: 28 MW. Construction started in 1986 and finished in 1992.

e) Two high voltage transmission lines with a length of about 400 km each, carrying power to urban centres Yangon and Mandalay.

A third power station was proposed but never constructed.

Nippon Koei and Kajima Corporation were involved in the construction of the project, according to Burma Rivers Network [2, see also Nippon Koei company webpage: 3].

No information on the total investment size could be found.

The completion of the project required the displacement of 12,558 people (4,558 affected by the power plants, and 8,000 affected by the Mobye dam) [1].

In 2013, Japan decided to renew the support to the controversial hydropower project by providing a 67 million USD aid through JICA. In a Press release, JICA representative stated: "Now that it is the 60th anniversary of Japan-Myanmar diplomatic relations as symbolized by this hydropower station in Kayah State, JICA today renews and reaffirms its commitment to bringing the maximum benefits of our financial and technical assistance to economic and social development of Myanmar and further strengthen mutual ties of the two countries." [4].
Project Area (in hectares)20,700 ha (reservoir size)
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population12,558 people displaced, many more affected through livelihood changes
Start Date1954
Company Names or State EnterprisesNippon Koei from Japan
Kajima Corporation from Japan - developer
Relevant government actorsBurma's military government
International and Financial InstitutionsJapan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (JICA) from Japan
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from Japan
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAnti-Dam Construction Committee (during the construction)

Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) (following completion, to document the consequences of this project)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
ethnic Karenni people
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic 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
OtherThe 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-economic 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
OtherFollowing militarization of the area, women were commonly forced to marry soldiers stationed at the site to secure the dam [1]
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

[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]


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

[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]

Other Documents

Lawpita plant (No. 2 Station) Source and Credit: Placesmap -
[click to view]

Traditional irrigation methods Source: Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) -
[click to view]

Transmission lines Source: Placesmap -
[click to view]

Cover of the Civil Society Report Source: Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) -
[click to view]

Map Lawpita Project Source: Burma Rivers Network,
[click to view]

Map of impacts Source: Burma Rivers Network,
[click to view]

Popular song about the Lawpita dam Source: Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) -
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update15/05/2018