2021 ESI guest post: A marginalized river — The Hatgyi Dam on the Salween in Myanmar

This is a guest blog post from Cho Wah Paw, an Environmental Stewardship Institute fellow this summer. Cho Wah presented on the human rights issues and biological and cultural diversity at risk due to the proposed hydropower Hatgyi Dam on the Salween River in Southeast Asia. (Note: Opinions expressed in ESI projects are those of the program participant and do not necessarily represent those of FMR.)

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For my final project, I showed the conflict of the controversial Hatgyi Dam planned for the Salween River in Myanmar. The Hatgyi dam is one of the dams to be built on the ecologically rich and ethnically diverse Salween River. Plans were made without the consultation of Indigenous groups who will be directly affected.

The project has caused numerous deaths and is linked to the escalating abuse and human rights violations towards the local populations, including forced labor and displacement, torture, rape, and illegal taxation. Environmental impacts include biodiversity loss, floods, food insecurity, soil erosion, and deforestation. Other impacts include displacement, dispossession, loss of livelihood, and a loss of culture.

I wanted my project to be interactive. I created an imitation of a theodolite, an instrument used for land surveying, by repurposing old cardboard. I incorporated a stereoscope, a device used to view images as a three-dimensional image, so viewers could behold the impacts the construction of the dams have and will have on local ethnic people like the Karens and Shans.

Person peeking into stereoscope
The audience at our final presentations got to look into the stereoscope.

Stereoscope reel
This is the stereoscope reel I created.

Inside stereoscope, a picture of people
This is what you might see if you look inside: a photo of displaced Karen villagers earlier this year and actions you can take.

Why I chose this project

I settled on creating an art piece because I wanted it to be conspicuous and memorable. I paint as a hobby so I was familiar with this area. 

What I hope you take away

I want people to understand that the language of "development" and "green energy" does not necessarily indicate a positive course of action. Sometimes it is used to disguise evil human doings.

If you want to learn more about the Hatgyi Dam or take action, you can donate to project KARE for refugees at the Thai/Myanmar border, check out Rachael Allen’s GoFundMe for internally displaced Karen people in Myanmar: “Rice appeal for Karen refugees", or text “PAKJMG” to 50409 to send an automated email to your state representative to get involved via Resistbot.

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What's the Environmental Stewardship Institute?

FMR's Environmental Stewardship Institute (ESI) fosters a diverse next generation of environmental leaders through an immersive program of local river issues and professional development that supports an interdisciplinary exploration of the environmental field.

FMR created ESI in 2019 to address the gap between environmental education and a career path in the environmental field. While many high schools offer green teams or eco clubs, many young people don't have the opportunity to explore what a career in the environmental field can look like. As an environmental organization, FMR wants to use our resources to help address that gap, in turn growing a stronger, more equitable future for the environmental movement.

ESI provides a paid job experience and foundational learning to a group of students, our ESI fellows, curious about environmental career paths. Upon completing the program, fellows are more prepared for continued schooling in environmental subjects and have work experience to lean on for future job opportunities across a variety of disciplines in the environmental field.

Check out other projects from 2021 ESI fellows.