The number of military battalions in dam site areas has tripled in the last ten years. With increased militarization comes a host of corollary problems, outlined below. The Lawpita hydropower station in Karenni State continues to be surrounded by 18,000 landmines.

Forced relocation
Villagers living near dam sites are forced to relocate before dam construction begins when counter-insurgency campaigns attempt to “clear” the surrounding area in order to secure the project. For example, the 1996 anti-insurgency campaign in central Shan State forced nearly 60,000 villagers living in rural villages adjoining the Tasang dam site to relocate. Since 2005 military offensives in Karen State have forced an estimated 25,000 to flee their homes near the Weigyi and Hatgyi dam sites. Since the early 1990s Burma’s military has launched several offensives against the ethnic Karen villagers living in the vicinity of the Dagwin dam site. Before the offensives, the zone had a population of just over 100,000 people.  Now more than half have fled the area, many ending up in refugee camps in Thailand. The majority of those remaining have fled their homes and are living as internally displaced persons.

Villagers are also forced to move for the construction of dam infrastructure or ahead of reservoir filling. From 1973-1990 over 4,000 people were forcibly relocated, the majority without compensation, for the construction of the Lawpita hydropower plants and army battalion camp, and establishment of the surrounding “restricted zone.” Several villages have been forcibly relocated for the Tamanthi and Yeywa dams.

Forced labor
Villagers forced to build a road near Shweli I dam site
The International Labor Organisation has repeatedly called on the Burmese government to halt its practice of forced labor, citing evidence from across the country. Forced labor is often associated with the construction of military infrastructure such as barracks and camps, as well as roads, all of which increase with increased military deployment to dam site areas. Villagers have been forced to work clearing roads for the construction of transmission lines for the Shweli I dam project. Villagers were forced to help build new military base set up near the Upper Paunglaung dam site.

Land confiscation
Land taken for a military farm near the Shweli I dam site

Confiscation of lands for military camps is also a common practice in Burma. In the case of the Shweli I dam, lands were confiscated for the construction of a military camp specifically for troops deployed to secure the dam site. Land confiscation near the Chibwe dam (one of the dams on the Irrawaddy/N’Mai/Mali) for a project camp and office has been reported. Lands were confiscated for the construction of associated infrastructure for the Lawpita Hydropower Project without compensation to land owners.

Sexual violence
As army battalions increase near dam site areas, women become vulnerable to state-sanctioned sexual violence
Sexual violence committed by Burma Army troops against women in ethnic areas has been documented in many reports. The vast majority of rapes committed by Burma Army soldiers go uninvestigated and perpetrators are not charged. In the current atmosphere of impunity, there is grave concern for the safety of local women following increased deployment of soldiers to dam sites. The Shan Women’s Action Network has documented sexual violence by Burma Army troops against hundreds of women living around the Tasang dam site.

Voices of the Dammed

Development in Burma