Achieving a more sustainable hydropower sector is a priority for the Myanmar government. With over 100 projects planned or in the pipeline, the government is setting itself an ambitious target to provide access to electricity to around 34 million people by 2030. The sustainability of the sector relies on understanding key environmental and social factors involved in hydropower development.
This month, the Myanmar government and IFC, with support from the Australian government, held a planning meeting to launch a country-wide strategic environmental assessment (SEA) that will take place in three phases over the course of the next year. Focusing on five key river basins in Myanmar, the SEA will contribute to policy and planning by shifting perspectives from a project-by-project basis to a landscape approach, evaluating impacts at a cumulative and country-wide level.
“The time is right to help guide the hydropower sector. The SEA will contribute to a better understanding of where we should prioritize our project development,” said Daw Mi Mi Khaing, Director General, Department of Electric Power Planning, Ministry of Electricity and Energy, based in Nay Pyi Taw. “The SEA will be a tool to plan balanced hydropower. It will help us along a pathway that meets energy security in a sustainable manner.”
“Achieving our development goals requires us to meet electricity demands, but we also want to protect the environment,” said U Hla Maung Thein, Director General, Environmental Conservation Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. “The SEA should help us better understand biodiversity hotspots and areas that are best suited to conserve or develop.”
The SEA, conducted by the International Center for Environmental Management (ICEM), will be led by Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Ministry of Electricity and Energy, and IFC. The process will include a review of existing information, data collection, developing a GIS database and mapping, and a series of round-table meetings, consultations and workshops with stakeholders and topic-specific technical expert groups. Additionally, IFC will lead a senior-level advisory group to guide the process and provide feedback and recommendations.
According to ICEM Team Lead Jeremy Carew-Reid, the SEA is a development planning tool promoting social and economic equity and ecological sustainability in development decisions. It will offer a sustainable development pathway evaluating impacts across sectors.
“Taking a landscape approach provides a real advantage to develop hydropower, as it allows all interested parties to weigh in values and trade-offs at the watershed level and jointly decide the optimal development pathway,” said Pablo Cardinale, IFC Principal Environmental Specialist. “The private sector will benefit from this SEA, as international financiers will ask for comprehensive environmental and social alternative analysis as a key and integral component of their loan-approval due-diligence process.”
U Han Thein Lwin, High Tech Concrete Technology Co., Ltd., emphasized the need for the private sector to develop their experience in engaging stakeholders. The SEA could help the private sector better understand how to meet environmental and social commitments.
“Stakeholders are the heart of this assessment,” said Kate Lazarus, IFC Hydro Advisory Team Lead based in Yangon. “Their perspectives will shape the SEA’s development and encourage more participatory and transparent processes in the hydropower sector.”