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Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation

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Salween River Dam Conflict in Myanmar

Type of conflict main
Intensity 3
Region
South Eastern Asia
Time 2013 ‐ ongoing
Countries Myanmar, Thailand, China
Resources Fish, Biodiversity, Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary Myanmar confirmed the approval of six dam projects for the Salween River in 2013. These hydro-electric dams are to be built in conflict zones currently...
Salween River Dam Conflict in Myanmar
Myanmar confirmed the approval of six dam projects for the Salween River in 2013. These hydro-electric dams are to be built in conflict zones currently destabilised by civil war between independence groups and the Burma Army. The dams have further destabilised conflict areas, causing a flow of refugees across borders.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

The Salween River is home to at least thirteen ethnic groups and boasts rich biodiversity. The construction of the dams has already displaced thousands of people, some of whom have crossed the border into Thailand and China.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

The biggest source of conflict stems from the location of the dams, given that they are built in war-torn areas of Myanmar. Violence over the dams often occurs between already warring rebel groups and the Burmese Army. Furthermore, some of the dams are expected to affect Thai and Chinese communities, either by the flow of refugees across the borders, or by the physical impacts on water and land.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversInfrastructure development changes the allocation of water.Infrastructure development facilitates land use changes.Freshwater becomes scarce as an essential resource. Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity hampers agricultural production.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.Migration/displacements provokes interstate tensions.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.Construction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land Scarcity(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate TensionsNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • History of Conflict
  • Unresponsive Government
Case Study

In 2013, plans for six hydro-electric power dams for the Salween River were approved. These projects are moving forward in places where conflict between ethnic resistance forces and the Burmese Army exists (International Rivers, 2013). The dams have become a fracture line for violent skirmishes between these forces and have displaced thousands - some of whom have crossed the border into Thailand and China. The projects are shrouded in secrecy, and it is difficult to know the actual extent of the damage of these dams to the environment or to human security.

The importance of the Salween river
The Salween River is 2,800 Km long and originates in the Himalaya Mountains, flowing through China’s Yunnan province into Burma and Thailand down to the Andaman Sea (Salween Watch, 2014). It is one of the last international free-flowing rivers in the world. The river is home to at least thirteen ethnic groups and boasts rich biodiversity, which sustains the livelihoods of thousands with fishing and cross border trade (FAO, 2011). The dams are being planned and constructed jointly between Chinese corporations, Thailand’s EGAT International Co., Ltd. and Burmese investors (Salween Watch, 2014).

Handling the impact of the dams
Some of these dams will affect Thai and Chinese communities, either by the flow of refugees across borders, or, by the physical impacts of the dam on water and land access. Although there has been some effort by Thai authorities to include public participation in dam development, there has been no attempt in Myanmar and little attempt in China. Environmental impact assessments are secretive, and construction of some dams has started without public notification (Salween Watch, 2014). Recent reports by activists and NGOs, such as International Rivers and Salween Watch, have emphasized the danger of building these dams in war-torn areas in Myanmar. Violent confrontations between warring groups over dam construction sites will hinder dispute resolution of overall conflicts (Noreen, 2013).

There has been no attempt by Burmese authorities or foreign investors to address the grievances of the Burmese people over the dams. Conflict resolution is made particularly difficult because violence over the dams often occurs between already warring rebel groups and the Burmese Army. Conflict resolution will require a comprehensive approach that also addresses the existing reasons for civil war.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
Intensities
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Diplomatic Crisis No diplomatic crisis
Fatalities
0
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement Less than 100.000 and less than 10% of the population are displaced across borders.
Destination Countries Thailand, China
Resources
Fish, Biodiversity, Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly ignored.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Myanmar
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Burmese Army
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Burmese ethnic resistance forces
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Salween Watch
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
International Rivers
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleExternal
Burmese investors
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Chinese corporations
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleExternal
EGAT International Co Ltd.
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleExternal
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource Capture is present.
Ecological Marginalization is present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
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