20 June 2014 | Myanmar Times | Ei Ei Toe Lwin
Hydroelectric power projects in Kachin State and on the Thanlwin River will be implemented systematically with the minimum environmental impact and in a fully transparent manner, U Maw Thar Htwe, deputy power minister, promised Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on June 18.
The projects, which face local resistance, will support the country’s economic and social development, the deputy minister said.
The Kunlone, Chipwe and Laiza projects, to be undertaken as joint ventures with foreign partners, could bring in an annual profit of US$367 million and would supply 2620 megawatts of electricity for local consumption after completion in 2021-2022, he told MPs.
The six projects – Kunlone, Naung Pha, Montaung, Mongtong, Ywar Thit and Hat Gyi – now under construction on the Thanlwin River and its tributaries would generate more than 15,000MW.
“If we can implement the Kunlone, Naung Pha and Montaung projects on the Nanma river, the state will earn $168.7 million annually and will get 1412MW of electricity,” U Maw Thar Htwe said.
The projects would also provide job opportunities for residents, and bring improved transportation amid other economic, education and health-related benefits, the deputy minister said.
He added that they would be implemented according to environmental and social impact reports, and the department would provide adequate compensation. Affected communities would be properly relocated, he said.
Pyidaungsu Hluttaw speaker Thura U Shwe Mann reminded the deputy minister of his undertakings and said he would be expected to abide by them. In view of the need for electricity, the speaker urged local MPs to explain to their constituents the benefits described by U Maw Thar Htwe to solicit their support.
“Electricity is essential for the socioeconomic development of the country. We are concerned that we won’t be able to fulfil our responsibilities if we don’t implement the projects. ‘We’ means our hluttaw, the government and the relevant departments. I consider that we need to implement the projects because the next generation will have to live with the results if we fail to do so,” Thura U Shwe Mann said.
However, there is significant local and international opposition to many of the projects. Many of the proposed dams are also located in or near the territory of armed ethnic groups, including Kachin, Shan and Kayin rebels.
In October, the Burma Rivers Network, a collection of civil society groups, called on the government to halt hydropower projects on the Thanlwin River, arguing that the projects threaten not only environmental and social security but also the peace process.
At least 50 clashes between armed ethnic groups and the army have broken out because of hydropower projects, and thousands of refugees have fled since the current government came to power, the network said.
“These conflicts have broken out despite the ceasefires. It is very clear that the Thanlwin dams are fuelling war. If President U Thein Sein really wants peace, he should stop the dams immediately,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an environmental researcher from local group Shan Sapawa.
Critics also say the projects will mostly benefit China, whose companies are providing most of the financing. Environmentalists have also spoken out against projects on the Thanlwin River, which is the longest dam-free waterway in Southeast Asia.
But Myanmar has installed electricity capacity of just 4362.5MW, according to government figures, and must build more electric power stations to meet growing demand. The master plan drawn up by the government to meet local needs entails six projects implemented by the state, three projects implemented with ethnic-group investment and 32 projects implemented as joint ventures with foreign investment.
Translation by Thiri Min Htun