THE Burmese government should completely abandon plans to construct large-scale coal and hydro power plants, groups representing affected communities said, claiming the mega projects were hampering peace efforts in conflict-torn areas.
In a joint statement by 422 organisations, Burma’s governing party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was accused of unilaterally approving the projects without prior consultation with local communities.
The groups claimed most of the projects are located in villages facing ethnic strife and that apart from damaging the environment, they also pose serious obstacles to the work of peace brokers. According to Mongbay, the five hydroelectric projects planned on the Myanmar side of the Salween River are all near areas of contested governance in Shan, Karenni and Karen states. The environmental science and conservation news site says ethnic Shan political groups have been calling for the government to halt the plans to build the dam there as it “could affect peace and cause a lot more conflict in the ethnic areas”.
“If these projects go ahead, they will cause irreversible damage to the environment, ecosystems, ethnic culture, social security, aggravate climate change, and fuel social and ethnic conflict across the country,” the groups representing Burma’s ethnic communities and local and international NGOs said in the statement launched after a Green Energy Forum in Yangon on Tuesday.
“The NLD should place a moratorium on all proposed mega projects if it hopes to end decades of civil war,” they added.
The organisations also acknowledged Burma’s power supply problems, noting that access to electricity is a privilege that only a third of the country’s population enjoys.
However, they said embarking on an ambitious energy policy that places heavy focus on coal and hydro-power dams should not be the solution to energy poverty.
Instead, Burma could focus on renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuel and mega dams, especially community-owned off-grid solutions, which the groups said can be much cheaper than expanding the central grid.
“Indigenous communities in rural areas will be the last to benefit from current plans for grid expansion, underscoring the need for an inclusive community-driven dialogue on meeting the country’s energy needs,” they said.
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They also urged Burma’s new government to be transparent of such future projects, saying information must be given to the public promptly to avoid repeating the mistakes made by its predecessors. Civil society and local communities should be given meaningful participation in Burma’s energy plans and be placed at the center of the government’s decision-making process, they said.
“All contracts for proposed mega development projects should be published without hesitation,” the groups stressed.
In conclusion, the groups called on the NLD government to deliver on its election campaign manifesto, where the party had committed to generating electricity from existing hydro power projects, tackling pollution and protecting the environment.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had in August discussed with China the fate of the Chinese-funded hydro powered Myitsone dam project. Radio Free Asia claimed Suu Kyi and China’s Premier Li Keqiang agreed to work together to resolve the issue, as Beijing hopes for the US$3.6 billion project to be restarted after five years of suspension.
Locals questioned the arrangement, in which China will take 90 percent of the power produced by the dam, much to the Burmese people’s dismay.