The cascade of large dams proposed on the free-flowing Salween River is a longstanding concern among residents, civil society organizations and academics [1,2,3,4,5]. The proposed 1,200 MW Naung Pha dam, located in Northern Shan State between Lashio and Ho Pang township, is one of these dams that has caused opposition and resistance by local groups and larger civil society networks.
Civil society organizations (CSO) have raised concerns over the manifold environmental, social and political impacts and implications the dam would cause . As part of the series of planned dams that would irreversibly change the Salween river, the Naung Pha hydropower project poses severe threats to biological and cultural diversity , as well as to the livelihoods of local residents. CSOs denounce the way how the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was conducted by the Australian company SMEC (see project details). They criticize that the ESIA was conducted largely “in secrecy” and that no large public consultations were held. People were informed just a few hours before the consultations. Promotional campaigns stating that consultations were “successful” and that people asked the company to start construction as soon as possible, misrepresented the situation, they say [1,6].
Moreover, the dam is located in an active conflict area where local armed groups have not signed the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and where significant tensions and open conflict between the Burmese army and the ethnic armed group remain. The construction of the Naung Pha dam would lead to a reinforcement of Burmese troops in the area to secure the dam site and thus increase the likelihood for further armed conflict . Groups criticize that political pressure to construct the dam, exerted by both the Myanmar and Chinese government, is undermining a fragile peace process [1,6]. While the Union government claims that dams are needed to address Myanmar’s growing energy needs, reports state that 90% of the electricity produced by the dam would be exported to China [1,7].
Beyond the social and political concerns, the project causes also fears of dam breakage and disasters among Shan communities, because it is located within a zone prone to earthquakes. The dam is close to the Nampawng fault line and its reservoir also overlaps with the Nam Ting fault line, where several earthquakes took place during the last years .
People have started to mobilize against the hydropower project. On August 2016, about 250 people from nine villages gathered to protested against the dam plans. During the subsequent months, several other protests followed, involving hundreds of northern, southern and eastern Shan State farmers [1,8]. Press releases were prepared and press conferences held to denounce the dam plans. Open letters were sent to government officials. On August 17, 2016 a letter was sent to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, signed by 26 civil society groups that demanded a halt of the project [6,7,8,9].
On December 23, 2017 a large meeting and a ceremony were held at Wat Ho Mang temple (Tang Yan township), with 300 village representatives from seventeen townships. The participants called for a halt of the Naung Pha dam as well as the stop of all hydropower projects located on the Salween river: “The government should listen to the voice of the people, and help stop the Naung Pha and other dams on the Salween river, which have no benefit for local people, Shan State or the union, but just benefit foreign investors […] Local people will just lose their land, face natural disasters and have to relocate.” (leading organizer, quoted in ).