Five dams planned for the Salween in Burma threaten to permanently alter a way of life for over half a million people living downstream at the riverâ€™s mouth. Life in the unique ecosystem of the Salween estuary, or where the fresh water of the Salween and its tributaries meets the salt water of the Andaman Sea, is interlinked with seasonal flows and daily tides. However, if the dams are built, downstream impacts, as studied elsewhere in the world, stand to break that link. These impacts include:
Decreased sediment reaching downstream reduces agricultural productivity in one of Burmaâ€™s rice bowls. The food security of not only the local population but also the hundreds of thousands that rely on rice exported from the area would be jeopardized.
Altered river flows may cause higher concentrations of salt water to travel further inland, further threatening agriculture crops
Sudden and unnatural water surges caused by releases from dams upstream increase erosion, destroy islands, and make the river dangerous to local communities
Changes in water quality, salinity, or seasonal flows are likely to make community water pools undrinkable and affect agricultural crops
A decline in fish catches due to interrupted migrations will impact the protein source of the local diet and decrease biodiversity
Dam breaks would be a disaster, the proposed dams lie on active earthquake fault lines
Any one of these changes to the river would tip the balance fine-tuned over generations between self-reliant communities and their environment, leading to loss of livelihood and out-migration. Yet, despite all these concerns and potential problems, those living downstream have not even been informed of the project, let alone participated in any decisions surrounding it.
For information on the Salween Dams, see www.salweenwatch.org
For more information on the downstream impacts of the Salween Dams, see the report In the Balance
For information on downstream impacts in general, see:
The World Commission on Dams (WCD) Knowledge Base at www.dams.org
The WCD study on downstream impacts at www.dams.org
The book Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams
(for information, www.internationalrivers.org)