Upper Paunglaung Dam, Shan State, Myanmar

A Chinese-backed dam submerged more than 20 villages at the cost of life. Suicide and depression have marked the development of the controversial Upper Paunglaung dam


The controversial Upper Paunglaung dam was built to supply electricity to the country’s newly built capital Naypyidaw. Opposition and complaints from villagers and civil society groups marked the construction and inauguration of the dam, because the consequences for local ethnic groups have been severe [1,2].

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Basic Data
NameUpper Paunglaung Dam, Shan State, Myanmar
ProvinceShan State
SitePyinmana (40km east of)
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Upper Paunglaung hydropower dam is located about 42km from Pyinmana town, half way between the capital Naypyidaw and the town Loikaw [2,3].

The dam has a capacity of 140 MW, comprised of two turbines. The concrete dam is 1,690 foot (515m) wide and 322 foot (98m) high [1,3]. Project cost was reported at 31 billion Kyat (USD 24,000,000) [3].

According to the report by PHR, the dam was financed and built by Chinese, Swiss and British firms. The Ministry of Electric Power (MOEP) was the project lead. China’s Yunnan Machinery Equipment Import & Export Company and AF Group of Sweden (through Colenco Switzerland) were among the consortium members for the construction of the dam [1,8,10]. Burma Rivers Network mentions the involvement of the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank) [9]. Also, UK-based engineering firm Malcolm Dunstan and Associates and the German company FOSCE Consulting Engineers were named to be involved [1,6,9].

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and the Ministry of Forestry managed the relocation of residents to make way for the reservoir [2]. The Ministry of Home Affairs was responsible for issues appearing in the relocation site [3].
Project Area (in hectares)6,100
Level of Investment (in USD)24,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Populationca. 10,000 relocated
Start Date01/09/2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesYunnan Machinery Import and Export Co. Ltd from China
AF Consult from Sweden
Colenco from Switzerland
Malcolm Dunstan & Associates from United Kingdom
FOSCE Consulting Engineers (FOSCE) from Germany - consulting Engineers
Relevant government actorsDepartment of Hydropower Implementation

Ministry of Electric Power (MOEP)

Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

Ministry of Forestry

Ministry of Home Affairs
International and Financial InstitutionsChina Export Import Bank from China
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersKayan Women's Union

Land in Our Hands

Kayan New Generation Youth

Do Myay (Our Land) Network

Physicians for Human Rights

Burma Rivers Network

Salween Watch Coalition

International Rivers

And others
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
ethnic Kayan Lahta, Shan, Burman, and Pa-O

indigenous Kayan, including Kayan Latha subgroups, and others
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Given the severe situation, several people attempted suicide by drinking pesticide. As of October 2015, six were hospitalized and four died
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths
OtherSuicide attempts by relocated residents through drinking of pesticides [2,6]
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
OtherForced labour
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Violent targeting of activists
Irregularities in compensation payments
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project started operations despite its devastating impacts. There were no signs of adequate redress of the impacts caused by the dam. Compensation procedures were reported to be insufficient, not transparent and irregular.
Sources and Materials

2012 Foreign Investment Law
[click to view]

2014 Myanmar Electricity Law
[click to view]

2012 Environmental Conservation Law
[click to view]

2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law
[click to view]


[1] Kayan Women's Union, 2008 "Drowning the Green Ghosts of Kayanland: impacts of the Upper Paunglaung dam in Burma". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[2] Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), October, 2015. "Forced Displacements and Destroyed Lives around Upper Paunglaung Dam in Shan State, Myanmar". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

Kayan New Generation Youth and Burma Rivers Network, May 2011. "Ordered out: The costs of building Burma’s Upper Paunglaung Dam" (accessed online 20.09.2018)
[click to view]


[4] The Myanmar Times, 07 October 2015. "Relocated villages face water shortages". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[3] The Myanmar Times, 11 December 2015. "Controversial Upper Paunglaung dam joins national grid". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[5] The Myanmar Times, 08 September 2014. "In mountains near Nay Pyi Taw, a test case for hydropower sector". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[6] Al Jazeera, 30 June 2016 "Myanmar: Hydropower and the cost of life - Suicide rates and poverty are on the rise among rice farmers displaced by Myanmar's Paunglaung Dam". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[7] The Myanmar Times, 07 November 2013. "Complaints emerge over Paunglaung Dam compensation". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[8] Salween Watch Coalition, June 18, 2008. "New Hydropower Dam for Burma’s Military Capital to Displace Thousands". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[9] Burma Rivers Network on the Upper and Lower Paunglaung Dams. (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

[10] The Financial Times, March 21, 2014 "Villagers count cost of Myanmar dam project". (accessed online 17.09.2018).
[click to view]

Wikipedia on the Upper Paunglaung Dam
[click to view]

Media Links

DBVTV News video "Shan dam causing waves"
[click to view]

Other Documents

Cover of the civil society report Source: https://burmariversnetwork.org/images/stories/publications/english/drowninggreenghostsenglish.pdf
[click to view]

Relocation area Source: Myanmar times, https://www.mmtimes.com/business/18099-controversial-upper-paunglaung-dam-joins-national-grid.html
[click to view]

Upper Paunglaung Dam Source: Myanmar times, https://www.mmtimes.com/business/18099-controversial-upper-paunglaung-dam-joins-national-grid.html
[click to view]

Dam construction Source: https://www.mmtimes.com/national-news/8718-complaints-emerge-over-paunglaung-dam-compensation.html
[click to view]

FT, Michael Peel, 21 March 2014
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJatlas Southeast Asia Team (ejatlas.asia"at"gmail.com)
Last update13/10/2018