No Longer Forgotten – Asia's Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River

Grace Mang
 The Salween River, near Hat Gyi dam site in Karen state
The Salween River, near Hat Gyi Dam site in Karen state
Photo by International Rivers

For many years, the transboundary Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River has been skating on the sidelines in China, Thailand and Burma. The plight of its mother rivers has dominated public attention, however, this river, which is rich with ethnic minority groups and hosts some of the regions most important biodiversity hotspots, has received little global attention. The Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River faces the immediate threat of 12 large hydropower dams planned for construction in the coming decade. I wanted to share with you some of International Rivers’ latest efforts to protect and defend Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River on which our South-East Asia and China Programs have been collaborating for over three years.

Last week, Chiang Mai University launched the first International Conference on Salween-Thanlwin-Nu Studiesan academic meeting marking an important milestone in efforts to understand and protect this mighty river. Our efforts to defend this river is a long-term one dating back to my colleague Pianporn Deetes' efforts working with local communities along the river to engage them in the planning process for the Thai backed Hatgyi and Tasang dams. In recent years, International Rivers has been trying to gather communities to focus on the fate of Asia's last free-flowing river (albeit for a small dam in Tibet). In 2012, former staff member Katy Yan and Pianporn sought to convene an old NGO network from China, Thailand and Burma to discuss the future of the river. Data and experts were identified as key roadblocks to understanding the changes in the basin and the impacts of large infrastructure development. Last year we supported an experts' round table, which identified the the creation of Salween studies as a priority. Over 200 people attended this groundbreaking International Meeting of Nu-Salween-Thanlwin studies, dwarfing initial estimates that the meeting would host only 40 experts from the region. In the end, youth movements and community representatives flocked to the meeting to share their knowledge and stories, and hear from experts including from China Export-Import Bank and others in academia.

Ultimately, the success of our work is not about how loud our voice is, but rather depends on how many people will champion the cause of rivers, particularly forgotten ones like the Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River. International Rivers will continue to ensure that future decisions about Asia’s last free-flowing river are made with the best information and data, and include communities and environmental considerations. After last weekend’s meeting, we know for sure that we will not be alone. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014