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Dam will make thousands homeless

Villagers face “destitution” once waters rise in new dam

Dam will make thousands homeless
The local way of life is under threat (photos: KGYC) staff reporter, Asia Desk, Bangkok

June 3, 2011

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The clock is ticking for 8,000 villagers who have four months to find new homes before the Myanmar military evicts them from their land with the approval of multinational companies.

Families from 23 villages in the Nay Pyi Taw area of Shan state will face “destitution” in October when flood waters are due to begin rising behind the 103 meter Upper Paunglaung Dam. According to a report published this week by the Kayan Generation Youth Group (KGYG): “The project has proceeded with no appropriate compensation or resettlement process”

The biggest concern is that these people have nowhere to go and local leaders have little time to secure the future of their communities. One villager told KGYG: “We are ordered to move out with threats but we don’t know where to go or how we will survive.”

This applies to the majority of local people, says KGYG; only a handful of the 23 villages have chosen a resettlement site.

The military is offering to relocate communities to highland locations which will make local knowledge and farming practices obsolete. The report points out: “The local economy will be destroyed by the dam, with no alternative means of survival provided.”

The landscape around the dam area is pristine

To add insult to injury, there is a compensation package of just 50,000 kyat (US$50).

KGYG said even this “paltry” amount is not guaranteed, adding, “even if the compensation is given, it is more an insult than a help”.

One affected villager told the campaign group: “50,000 kyat is nothing for us. Don’t say it will help us rebuild our house and plant new fields. It is not even enough to remove my current house.”

Without a structured resettlement program or adequate compensation, KGYG warns of ensuing social problems and conflict caused by the loss of land, employment, and education and health facilities.

Moreover, the submerging of historical sites such as cemeteries and pagodas beneath a 62km2 reservoir will “further obliterate cultural foundations”.

Building of the dam and its facilities is well under way

In three years of research the group has catalogued numerous human rights abuses associated with the Upper Paunglaung Dam project.

When AF Colenco (Switzerland), Malcom Dunstan Associates (United Kingdom) and Yunnan Machinery and Export Company (China) reached a deal with the ruling junta in 2004, the dam site was militarized immediately and forced labor soon followed.

Villagers from Ywa Gyi, Thinbaw Gone, Heintha Gone and Gwin Gone were ordered to build temporary military camps at the dam site. “This work is done without pay and cannot be refused for fear of punishment,” the report read.

In the villages themselves, military outposts were set up to monitor and restrict the movements of villagers and prevent outsiders entering the area, cutting off assistance from NGOs.

Families even had to pay for the privilege of a military guard when the army imposed a monthly tax of 1,000 kyat per household.

Meanwhile, construction workers brought in to build the dam work long hours for just 30,000 kyat per month, a meagre salary which is usually paid late.

In Myanmar these mega-projects are symbols of progress for the state propaganda machine, but the human and environmental impacts are deep and common place said KGYG, adding “the Upper Paunglaung Dam is no exception”.

According to Sai Sai, coordinator for the Burma Rivers Network (BRN), “Burma is not ready for this kind of investment. Despite the elections, nothing has changed and human rights abuses are still going on.

“Because there is no democratic process in Burma, people cannot participate in mega projects. For the Upper Paunglaung Dam, there was no people participation at all.”

Both BRN and KGYG want to see the program stopped and foreign companies to withdraw from projects which “lead directly to forcible land confiscation and other human rights abuses, destroy the environment, and do not bring any benefit to the local people.”

Placing pressure on the three foreign investors, Sai Sai remarked: “This project is associated with human rights abuses and is not up to standard. We hope that company shareholders will pull out of this investment to protect their reputation.”

However, Mu Moe Lay of the Kayan New Generation Youth casts doubt on the conscience of the global corporations, saying: “This project shows that whether from Europe or Asia, companies are willing to toss aside proper standards when working in Burma”.

On behalf of the 8,000 villagers in Nay Pyi Taw area, and thousands more, KGYG wants the international community to pressure the Myanmar military to halt the project and foreign companies to end their partnership with the government and review their investment policies.

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