Accepted paper:

Politics of water, energy and peace on the Salween River, Myanmar: A pathways analysis


Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn University)
Saw John Bright (Karen Environmental and Social Action Network)
Alec Scott (Karen Environmental Social Action Network )

Paper short abstract:

This paper identifies and analyzes three divergent pathways for water and energy governance being pursued in the Salween basin, Myanmar with implications for: peace, federalism and resource sharing; decentralization and community participation; and food, water and energy security.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, we present a pathway analysis of water and energy governance along the Salween River in Myanmar. Through a political economy lens, we examine how divergent visions for the basin are being formulated and acted upon, including the networks of actors engaged, the discourses produced, the decision-making processes invoked, and the material practices on-the-ground. We draw on an extensive literature review, expert interviews conducted over 2016 and 2017, and participatory engagement in meetings. We analyze three divergent pathways: 1) Pursuit of large hydropower dams before a political agreement for peace between the central government and ethnic groups is complete; 2) Political dialogue and genuine peace followed by deliberation on resource governance which may (or may not) include large hydropower dams; and 3) A local development pathway, such as the Salween Peace Park in Karen State, which combines resistance to large hydropower dams, with an emphasis on community development initiatives including natural resources management and decentralized electricity generation, and the integration of ethnic customary practices and management structures. We see the pursuit of a development "pathway", and the dismissal of another, as a highly political process, undertaken in a context where power is asymmetrical and claims to political legitimacy complex. In light of these divergent visions for the future of the Salween in Myanmar, we argue that there is a need for careful consideration of multiple policy goals, including related to: peace, federalism and security; decentralization and community participation; and food, water and energy security.

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