Daw Nu is a coordinator from 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Organization in Monywa, Myanmar. She believes that stakeholder engagement should be an inclusive, participatory process.
Min Min, a member of civil-society organization Metta Sagaing, lives with his family and community along the banks of the Chindwin River in north-western Myanmar. He, and representatives from other civil-society organizations, joined a river-basin consultation in Monywa this month to share their environmental and social concerns about riverine development in the Chindwin basin. Facilitated by ICEM and the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development, consultations were held as part of the Myanmar country-wide Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Hydropower Sector.
“Development of the Chindwin River affects my whole village. The river is becoming polluted, we no longer can clearly see the sand and rocks on the river bed or fish swimming in the water,” said Min Min at the consultation. “We value a healthy flow of clean water that we can use for farming and to drink.”
Min Min described how his community is located between a mine near the Chindwin River and a lock that controls the river’s annual flooding. He is focused on improving water quality and ensuring a healthy flow as his community uses the water for domestic consumption, fishing, and riverbank gardening. Min Min is concerned that the local environment could be degraded if activities such as mining are not managed well. This would affect the lives of the people that rely on the river’s water resources.
About a hundred representatives from legal groups, environmental groups, human rights’ groups, and minority and women’s organizations attended four river-basin consultations in the Ayeyarwady-Chindwin, Tanintharyi, Thanlwin and Sittaung river basins in November and December. Using maps, stakeholders identified key environmental and social values that they wish to protect in the basins. They also outlined special interests and concerns in areas under hydropower development. The maps and information gathered is being used as baseline research for the SEA, due to be finalized by October 2017.
Daw Nu, a coordinator from 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Organization, shared views similar to that of Min Min. She said, “The Chindwin River is the only thing that we all commonly value in Monywa; the river is our town’s trademark.” Daw Nu shared her views on the importance of early stakeholder engagement in project development. In her experience, projects were previously carried out without asking for or observing the opinions of the people.
Daw Nu pointed out that stakeholder engagement requires more than information sharing. It requires an inclusive, participatory process that is transparent, timely, and specific. Throughout the consultations, stakeholders agreed that riverine development needed to be equitable and must reach local people.
“Incorporating stakeholder concerns, values, and opinions is a key component of the SEA. This improves planning, decision-making, and improves relationships between the public and private sectors,” said Kate Lazarus, team lead for IFC’s Hydro Advisory program based in Yangon.
The SEA team also met with state and regional government departments to include their knowledge, views, and concerns in the SEA, and share with them the processes involved and timelines for the coming year. Once complete, the SEA will include valuable environmental and social data that will help decision-makers with country-wide hydropower planning and policy development.
“All ministries need to coordinate, when it comes to stakeholder interests,” said Thein Htay, Director of the Department of Environmental Conservation in Sagaing Region. “We are working towards the same objective; to engage stakeholders. We need to cooperate and work together better.”