Myanmar: Shan State villagers protest against SMEC over Mongton dam consultations; company responds

A boat travels along the Salween River in Shan State, the slated site of the Mongton hydroelectric dam. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)Photo credit: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy

Civil society organizations in Shan State have called for an immediate halt to the planned Mongton hydroelectric dam on the Salween River. Villagers have held protests against the Australian company Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), which has been tasked with assessing the potential environmental and social impact of the Mongton dam. They say SMEC is helping to push the project ahead without proper public consultation. We invited SMEC to respond to allegations and the company did so. 122 civil society organizations have formed the Save the Salween. They oppose the dam and says that plans to sell most of the electricity produced to China and Thailand, and to divert water to Thailand is unjust. 

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26 August 2015

Myanmar: Shan community deliver petition with over 23,700 signatures opposing dams building on Salween river to consultancy firm SMEC

Author: Mizzima News (Myanmar)

"Shan representatives deliver dam petition to Australian consultants in Yangon", 25 Aug 2015

Shan community representatives are...presenting a petition containing 23,717 signatures opposing the building of dams on the Salween River to the Australian company Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) at their office in Yangon...The signatures were collected from people throughout Shan State, particularly townships adjoining the Salween, who are alarmed at Naypyidaw’s accelerated plans to dam their river to export hydropower. “The Salween River is the lifeblood of millions of ethnic people in Burma,” said Nang Kham Naung, a Kunhing resident. “It is ours, and must not be sold by Naypyidaw and foreign companies.”


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19 August 2015

Myannar: Mon & Karen States residents face increased flooding risk if dams are built, says Save the Salween Network

Author: Burma News International

"Proposed Salween dams increase Mon and Karen state flood risks", 16 Aug 2015

Residents in Mon and Karen states will face increased risks of flooding if proposed dams are constructed on the Salween River, according to the Save the Salween Network. The Save the Salween Network held a press Moulmein, the Mon State capital...The objective of the press conference was to inform the public about the downstream impacts from the planned damming of the Salween River. Saw Tha Phoe...a spokesperson for the Save the Salween Network said: “Thousands of people in the Hpa-an area are currently suffering from the floods. We fear much greater flooding if the Salween dams are built.” Saw Tha Phoe explained that in times of heavy rainfall, river levels rise, and dams release water, which would flood entire areas of the Lower Salween River where many Mon and Karen people live. Like other parts of Burma, Mon and Karen states have suffered in the recent flood disaster...

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19 August 2015

SMEC defends role in impact assessment of Mongton dam

Author: Australian Associated Press (AAP)

"SMEC defends role in assessing Myanmar dam", 4 Aug 2015

...Snowy Mountains Engineering...has defended its role in drawing up an environmental impact assessment report for a controversial dam in Myanmar that faces strong local resistance...Despite strong resistance from local communities SMEC says it is undertaking the environmental and social impact assessments (EIA/SIA) and adhering to international best practice. "Conducting the (EIA/SIA) process with certain community representatives has been challenging, with planned consultations sometimes disrupted," the SMEC said..."SMEC aim is to conduct an EIA/SIA process that is inclusive, constructive and transparent,"...SMEC, which has a long history in Myanmar dating back to 1989, acknowledged "some planned consultations had been disrupted by community groups". But SMEC said the local consultation was "an essential element of an EIA/SIA process" and it would continue to make efforts "to improve communication with the local community". The company says it "maintains a neutral position on this project, whereby it is simply reporting the facts, both positive and negative".

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17 July 2015

Save the Salween says plans to sell most electricity & divert water to China & Thailand is unjust

Author: Kyaw Phone Kyaw, Myanmar Times

"Thanlwin dam projects ‘unjust’: civil society", 9 July 2015

A plan to build six dams along the Thanlwin River – and then sell most of the hydropower they generated to China and Thailand – would be “unjust”, campaigners claimed...A group of 122 local civil society organisations calling itself Save the Salween (Thanlwin) launched their campaign at a press conference in Yangon...The proposed dams would be located in Shan, Kayin and Kayah states and would be built by three companies from China, Thailand and Myanmar. The largest dam, the Mong Ton, will...produce an estimated 7000 megawatts, of which 90 percent will go to China and Thailand, with 10pc reserved for domestic use...“The electricity from the projects will be sold to foreign countries, so obviously would benefit neither this country nor its people,” the group said...The campaigners said the project entailed not only the sale of electricity, but even the diversion of water to Thailand, which they called an “injustice”. The dams also increase the risk of earthquakes, objectors say...The company hired to perform environmental and social impact statements, Australia’s Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), had conducted public consultations in which local people expressed disagreement with the plans direct to the company authorities...“SMEC spoke only of the advantages of the dams, and gave the villagers presents. Then they asked them to sign letters they didn’t understand. Now everybody’s objecting,”...Ko Saw Thar Boe, of Kayin State, said local residents were worried about the resumption of conflict because some of the dams were located in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups. “This is the first time we’ve had a respite in 60 years, and now the dams are going to shake things up again,” he said.


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18 June 2015

Shan civil society groups accuse SMEC to push dam project ahead without public consultation

Author: Neyin Neyin, Irrawaddy (Myanmar)

"Mongton Dam Consultations a ‘Rubber Stamp’: Community Groups", 9 June 2015

Civil society organizations in Shan State have called for an immediate halt to a planned hydroelectric dam on the Salween River, accusing an Australian company of helping to push the project ahead without proper public consultation. For the last three months, area villagers have held protests against community consultation meetings organized by Australia’s Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), which has been tasked with assessing the potential environmental and social impact of the Mongton dam...[A]group of 16 Shan civil society organizations claimed that instead of providing a genuine forum to discuss the dam’s impact, the SMEC’s community consultations were being used to expedite the project. “It is becoming apparent that SMEC’s (impact assessment) process is simply a sham, aimed to rubber-stamp the Mongton dam plans, rather than objectively assess the project’s actual impacts...Despite promising to hold ‘comprehensive’ public consultations in impacted townships, SMEC has since last month canceled all public consultations at the township level, instead only holding closed-door meetings with government officials…This appears to be a deliberate strategy to avoid facing community protests against the dam.”

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18 June 2015

Shan villagers say dam will destroy 100 communities

Author: Steve Herman, Voice of America (VOA)

"Huge Proposed Hydropower Dam in Myanmar Draws Local Opposition", 10 June 2015

A $6 billion hydropower dam planned for a site in Myanmar’s Shan state is drawing fierce opposition from locals who say it will flood an area nearly the size of Singapore, destroying 100 communities. Ethnic Shan community groups and environmentalists are appealing for help to fight the “Mong Ton” project, one of five actively planned hydropower dams planned along the Salween River. Some 16 Shan organizations issued a statement in Bangkok...warning the project could rekindle civil war in an already unstable part of Myanmar by encouraging the government to send in more troops to secure the area...The Shan, one of the ethnic groups involved in sporadic civil wars with the Myanmar government for decades, held several an attempt to halt the environmental and social impact assessment being conducted by a large Australian infrastructure consultancy firm, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC). The Shan joint statement calls SMEC’s assessments process “simply a sham, aimed to rubber-stamp the Mong Ton dam plans, rather than objectively assess the project’s actual impacts.” It alleges SMEC field surveyors last month “angered local villagers by only explaining the positive impacts of the dam, giving them ‘gifts’ which they saw as bribes, and persuading them to sign documents they didn’t understand.” The...project involves China’s Three Gorges Corporation, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power and International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE)...

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Company response
18 June 2015

SMEC response

Author: Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC)


Mong Ton Hydropower Project:


The proposed Mong Ton Hydropower Project is located in Myanmar. The objective of the Project is to improve both the capacity and reliability of electricity throughout Myanmar. If the Project proceeds, the hydropower plant will produce more than 34 billion KW hours of electricity annually. Electricity generated will first meet local demands, and surplus electricity will be sold to neighbouring countries, providing a revenue stream for the Government to invest in the local economy.


SMEC’s Role on the Project:


SMEC has been engaged as an Independent Technical Consultant responsible for undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for the Project. SMEC is collecting and reporting the facts, both positive and negative, from a neutral perspective. It is not SMEC’s role to provide recommendations as to whether the Project should proceed. The findings of the EIA/SIA will be presented to the Government of Myanmar, who will decide (with other sources of information) whether to proceed with the Project.


SMEC’s aim is to conduct an EIA/SIA process that is inclusive, constructive and transparent. Stakeholder consultation is an essential element of the process, and the objective of our team is to provide a balanced perspective of the Project and encourage stakeholders to actively participate in the consultation process. Disruption to the EIA/SIA process has the potential to adversely affect local communities, as their genuine concerns may not be able to be documented. Contrary to media reports, SMEC has tried to engage with local Civil Society Organisations on numerous occasions, with limited success. Our EIA/SIA team will continue to present invitations to stakeholder groups to discuss the details of the Project at a mutually convenient time and place.


As the EIA / SIA consultation process for this project is one of the first to be conducted to international standards in Myanmar, the Project is attracting a great deal of scrutiny. SMEC has invested in the skills development of local employees to ensure they understand the basis of an objective EIA/SIA process and are carrying it out in line with best-practice.


SMEC’s Position on Bribery & Corruption:


SMEC’s policies expressly prohibit bribery in all of our business dealings, which we define as giving or receiving an undue benefit (including payments and gifts) to influence behaviour and obtain commercial advantage. This prohibition applies to parties who deal with others on behalf of SMEC. There has been no breach of these policies on the Mong Ton Hydropower Project.


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18 June 2015

SMEC says community opposition impede consultation on dam project

Author: David Hopkins, Irrawaddy (Myanmar)

"Australian Firm Says Community Opposition Impeding Consultations on Controversial Dam", 16 June 2015

An Australian company contracted to assess the potential environmental and social impact of the planned Mongton dam has responded to recent criticism of the consultation process, saying that interference with its data collection efforts could lead to “suboptimal outcomes for the affected communities.” The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) has faced significant local opposition since holding its first public consultations on the project on March 10 in Taunggyi, Shan State...SMEC was appointed to conduct the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for the hydropower project which is backed by three Chinese companies, China Three Gorges Corporation, China Southern Power Grid and Sinohydro; the state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT); and local conglomerate the International Group of Entrepreneurs...In a statement...SMEC acknowledged opposition to the Mongton project and the notion of hydropower on the Salween River in general, but stressed that EIA/SIA meetings were “forums for the exchange of technical information” and not “platforms for political lobbying and demonstration.” The firm warned that “important future decisions may be based on poor or incomplete data” if the EIA/SIA process was disrupted. “Disruption of technical meetings by organised groups and demonstrations, often by people from outside the area, does have the potential to impede the information gathering process and ultimately is a disservice to the communities and stakeholders that may be directly impacted by the project,” SMEC said.


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