This week, IFC released the draft Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Hydropower Sector Final Report for stakeholders to review and provide their concluding feedback. Circulated among a diverse pool of individuals — from non-governmental and civil society organizations to members of the private sector — the draft SEA Final Report is the culmination of one-and-a-half-years of research compilation, GIS mapping, and engagements across Myanmar.
Led by Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) and the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) with support from IFC and the Australian government, the SEA of Myanmar’s hydropower sector provides an informed hydropower pathway for each major basin that takes a balanced approach, aiming to replace piecemeal project-by-project planning. Drawing on stakeholder views, advice, and recommendations, the SEA provides a deeper understanding of the importance of Myanmar's environmental and social values and the nation’s reliance on riverine resources.
Here are 10 things you should know about the SEA before reviewing the draft Final Report:
1) The SEA is not regulatory and is not intended to be the only study on Myanmar’s hydropower sector. The SEA is a first step to advance sustainability of the hydropower sector in Myanmar. It takes a river basin approach with the aim to identify key environmental and social values, and risks of hydropower at the basin and sub-basin scale. Based on data available at the time, the SEA provides recommendations on how to balance the government’s need to meet energy demands, partially through hydropower, with environmental and social values identified by people that rely on Myanmar’s vast river systems. Information gaps identified in the SEA are recommended for further study to help improve knowledge.
2) Decision-makers need a basin-wide perspective to improve planning. The SEA is not intended to replace project-level Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or provide detailed information on the ground. It is intended to provide broad-level baseline information, sub-basin evaluations and perspectives of local people about Myanmar’s key basins and sub-basins to improve national-level planning, hydropower project siting and decision-making.
3) The SEA recommends reserving the mainstems of Myanmar’s key rivers. Throughout the course of the SEA, the team learned from stakeholders the ecological uniqueness and value of Myanmar’s key mainstem rivers. These mainstem rivers are critical to maintain basin processes and functions and may also have notable effects on other areas such as delta and coastal processes. They have very large average annual flows – generally above 1,000 m3/s. The SEA recommends no development of any hydropower projects on Myanmar’s mainstems.
4) The SEA developed Basin Zoning Plans to advance basin sustainability. The eight Basin Zoning Plans provide recommendations for sub-basin development for the government, developers and others with clear information on the areas identified as high, med or low zones. They provide a balance between areas identified for conservation or protection and development.
5) ‘Low, medium and high-zone’ sub-basins do not directly translate into ‘go, proceed with caution and halt’ development. For high zones, strict hydropower development restrictions are recommended to ensure that these catchments retain the identified natural values, driving basin processes and/or are unique to these areas or representative of values that are in decline and need protection. However, it is proposed that opportunities are identified to meet the needs of rural and remote communities. This can be done by screening smaller scale, lower impact projects in catchments against additional criteria to determine if they should proceed. For medium and low zones, there may be potentially suitable projects for development, which should be subject to appropriate site, design, operating regime and environmental and social impact assessments.
6) Basins with cascades should be prioritized. To increase power generation, cascade hydropower development in a limited number of low- and medium-zone sub-basins could be a preferred option to developing across many sub-basins to reduce environmental and social impacts, maximize storage and regulation; if close to load centres. However, where conflict is present, conflict sensitivity analysis should be conducted and proceeded with caution.
7) Conflict is acknowledged as a significant restraint to hydropower development. In instances where the precursors of armed conflict are present, hydropower development can potentially exacerbate conflict. Therefore, early identification and consideration of the conflict status of an area proposed for a hydropower project is essential. The risks of conflict should be defined to enable informed decisions on whether a project should proceed and how to manage it. On the other hand, some stakeholders expressed interest in determining whether hydropower, in some locations, could contribute to peace-building through the creation of benefit sharing mechanisms.
8) Stakeholders’ views reflected in the SEA Final Report are diverse. During the SEA process, a wide range of perspectives on environmental and social values, economic development and hydropower were discussed. Due to conflict and a legacy of distrust, many stakeholders do not support large-scale projects. Other stakeholders call for more transparent processes, and if hydropower is to be developed it should be better situated, smaller scale, use state-of-the-art technology and adhere to international industry practices. Others see hydropower as potential part of the energy mix if done right.
9) SEA Summary Reports will be available in local languages. While the final SEA report is prepared in English and Myanmar, Summary Reports will be translated into ethnic languages to broaden the report’s reach to local communities.
10) The SEA promotes a new way of approaching hydropower in Myanmar. To better manage risks and lower environmental and social impacts, developers and planners need to change their approach to hydropower development. The SEA recommends moving away from the business-as-usual project-centric approach driven by engineering and economic feasibility to considering environmental and social and cumulative impacts at the earliest stage possible to deliver balanced hydropower development. Currently, only 14 percent of Myanmar’s catchments are regulated by hydropower. There is an opportunity to retain intact, free flowing rivers; develop others, and deliver sustainable outcomes through the implementation of the sustainable development framework.
For more information on Myanmar's Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Hydropower Sector, visit the SEA Resources Page.