U Kyaw Kyaw Naing from the civil society organization, 88 Generation, Myeik, in Myanmar’s Tanitharyi region is sceptical that hydropower can be sustainable. “In the past, the environment was damaged as projects were developed haphazardly.”
U Kyaw Kyaw Naing’s concern regarding the need for better hydropower planning is not exclusive to the southern Tanitharyi region of Myanmar. Stakeholders shared similar concerns from Myintkyina, Dawei, Hpa’ An and Taunggyi, at discussions taking place on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the hydropower sector that was held from January 5-15, 2018.
“The SEA, which has a wide coverage spanning the country, is important and essential for us. Further, this kind of research can drive our policy-makers to shape effective and sustainable electric power policy,” explained U Kyaw Kyaw Naing.
Building on previous stakeholder meetings, discussions this month presented initial findings of the SEA in key river basins. The discussions served as a platform for concerned stakeholders to provide further feedback to the SEA research team.
“Electricity is essential for development, but we also need to be responsible and reduce risks for local communities as much as possible,” said U Myint Maung, Minister of Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) for the Tanitharyi region. “We cannot say there is no impact. When we develop, there is indeed impact: large or small. If we can achieve hydropower with less negative impacts, people will be able to perceive the potentials of development.”
Myanmar’s MONREC and Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) are leading the study with technical support from IFC and in partnership with the Australian government. The first study of its kind in Myanmar, the SEA has helped region/state and Union officials to learn about the benefits of planning at the river basin level. The SEA prioritizes the need to understand environmental and social risks for planning, a step forward for Myanmar’s decision makers.
“All views are welcome and essential for the SEA,” said Kate Lazarus, Hydro Advisory Team Lead at IFC based in Yangon. “The SEA is not a conclusive study. While it will provide a foundation for understanding country-wide risks across Myanmar’s river basins, it is not meant to replace more in-depth analysis at the project level, based on scientific and local knowledge. In fact, the SEA aims to recommend more comprehensive studies to take place in the future.”
Stakeholders in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin river basins expressed their concerns about development on these key rivers’ mainstems. At these meetings, it was reiterated that the SEA recognizes the importance of maintaining Myanmar’s mainstem rivers such as the Ayeyarwady, Chindwin, and Thanlwin for their ecological connectivity and their ecosystem functions and services, which benefit communities living along the river. The construction of hydropower would create barriers to the migration and movement of fish and other aquatic organisms, many of which are economically important.
“For any planning to be sustainable, we need to be engaged in the policy making process,” said Saw Tha Phoe from Karen Rivers Watch based in Hpa’ An. “At the local level, we have abundant research available that has not been referenced in policy. We have conducted over three years of research on fisheries and river basin issues including water governance systems.”
In Myintkyina, on January 5, Daw Jar Khun, a representative from the controversial Myitsone displaced community, delivered a statement expressing the urgent need to halt mainstem development on the Ayeyarwady. Civil society organizations taking part in the discussions in Taunggyi, delivered similar statements and raised the need for small, and more inclusive hydropower projects with less environmental and social impacts. As mentioned in a recent statement by IFC, the SEA neither has any project links with nor endorses the Myitsone dam, or any other large-scale developments on Myanmar’s mainstems..
“Local communities prefer small or medium-scale hydropower projects over bigger ones as part of trust-building processes,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Naing. “They understand that hydropower can bring low-cost electricity, but it must be sustainable.”
Big or small, hydropower has environmental and social risks. Once the SEA is completed, decision makers and stakeholders will have more baseline information on the country’s environmental and social values and impacts and be better placed to make more informed decisions. With this information, they can incorporate these findings into their power master plans.
For more SEA updates, go to www.ifc.org/hydroadvisory