His Excellency U Ohn Win, Union Minister from Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC), addressed around 90 participants at a workshop including representatives from nongovernmental organizations, private sector and the government. The event marked the beginning of Stage 2 for Myanmar’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the Hydropower Sector.
“Tapping the country's extensive hydropower potential could provide a critical source of electricity for the national grid and could drive economic growth,” said U Ohn Win in his opening remarks. "However, hydropower can also have adverse effects on people in terms of relocation and loss of agriculture land," he added.
The day-and-a-half workshop on the sustainability analysis for the SEA presented stakeholders with results of key values at the sub-basin level for biophysical (aquatic ecology and fisheries, geomorphology and terrestrial biodiversity), social and conflict-related themes that will be covered in the final SEA to be completed later this year. On day one, participants engaged in activities to review the themes and discuss the cumulative and basin-wide impacts of hydropower development.
“The SEA aims to minimize negative impact, optimize positive ones,” said U Ohn Win. “Conducting the SEA for Myanmar's hydropower sector will help develop a sustainable roadmap for hydropower development and help make a balanced plan early on in the planning process.”
On the second day, participants helped the SEA team prioritize and determine environmental and social ratings of sub-basins and discussed the assessment’s sustainability analysis.
Participants provided valuable feedback to the team for the final report on environment-related topics. From sub-basin classification, and clarifications on issues of up and downstream areas, to the co-relation between fish connectivity, consumption and livelihood — the inputs were insightful and perceptive.
Regarding the conflict and social themes, participants urged that the report should include the potential impact of hydropower on alleviating conflict or stabilizing regions through constructive engagement. Additionally, they noted the importance of topography vis-à-vis dependence or access to water resources. They also suggested exploring links between hydropower and livelihoods, especially capture fisheries, among others. The team will consider all comments for the Sustainability Analysis Report as well as the final SEA Report.
"The SEA is an effective tool for improving strategic action, promoting stakeholders’ participation in the decision-making process and ensuring that strategic actions do not cross the line, causing irreversible damage,” said U Ohn Win. Stage 1 of the SEA process focused heavily on stakeholder engagement. In fact, over 50 consultations, information sessions, and meetings and advisory and expert groups were held to inform stakeholders of the SEA process and to better understand their environmental and social priorities and concerns. Now in Stage 2, the team will be producing a Sustainability Analysis Report.
U Ohn Win’s message is timely as the ministry is working to ramp-up guidelines and frameworks to advance the sustainability agenda in the hydropower sector and overall on environmental and social issues. In addition to the ongoing SEA of Myanmar’s hydropower sector, in collaboration with Ministry of Electricity and Energy and with IFC’s support, MONREC’s Environmental Conservation Department is drafting Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Guidelines for hydropower projects, and will soon begin its first Cumulative Impact Assessment. The aim is to shift planners mind set to thinking about basin-wide environmental and social impacts in additional to project-specific ESIAs.
"We have to protect our environment by integrating environmental conservation in the sustainable development process, and comply with existing rules, regulations and guidelines related to environmental conservation,” said U Ohn Win.