[Seminar] Investment to Myanmar and Environmental and Social Aspects “What should Japan do?: Reports from Local Residents Affected by the Thilawa SEZ”

Sep 27, 2016 (Tue) 18:30-20:30

Organized by: Mekong Watch

Cooperation by: Ayus, FoE Japan, Human Rights Now
Location: Global Environmental Outreach Centre (Tokyo)
(1st Floor of UN University, between Shibuya and Omotesando)
Fee:  500 Yen (Students and Mekong Watch and cooperating organizations’ members are free)

More than 2 years have passed since residents affected by the Thilawa SEZ Development Project filed a complaint and request for investigation into JICA’s what they believed to be violations of JICA’s safeguard policies. Have there been any improvements? What are the current situation and problems? Any concerns? At the seminar, residents and local NGO staff will be reporting on recent developments.

The Japanese government and private sector are promoting the Thilawa SEZ Development Project together in Myanmar/Burma. It is a project to develop a special economic zone of around 2,400ha containing industrial and commercial areas. The project site is located about 23km from the Yangon City center. In November 2013, Phase 1 of the project was commenced by JICA with Myanmar-Japan joint ventures in which Japanese trading companies invested. In September 2015, some parts of SEZ were opened and this year, construction of some sections of Phase 2 is planned to start.

One aim of the project is promotion of economic development in Myanmar, but some 1,000 households are subject to relocation. In the Phase 1, already 68 households have been forced to resettle and they are facing difficulties due to loss of access to farmlands, grazing lands, rivers, etc. and those who are supposed to relocate in the future are anxious that they will face the same type of problems. In addition, the environmental assessment was finished even before residents were fully informed of what was being planned. Information disclosure and consultations with the affected residents are unfortunately still insufficient.

For this seminar, we have invited affected residents of the project and NGOs from Myanmar so that we can learn from them about the current living conditions and the issues around this project and think about what Japan should do for environmental and social aspects of development projects.

Seminar Program (subject to change):
1) Overview of the Thilawa SEZ Development Project
2) Report from local residents/NGOs
3) Background and Legal Aspects of Land Confiscation in Thilawa
4) Recommendations for Japanese Society
5) Q&A

*There will be consecutive interpretation for Japanese from Burmese.

To attend:
Register through Mekong Watch (in Japanese)
Or just show up!

Inquiries: <info@mekongwatch.org> (in Japanese or English)

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Thilawa Update

All residents from Phase 1 of the Thilawa SEZ Development project have been resettled, but in spite of the many unresolved problems, preparations are being made to relocate the next 2000-hectare area.

During Phase 1, residents were greatly dissatisfied with both the resettlement process and compensation. Two years since relocation, there is still insufficient clean water supply, some families have left the relocation site, and some families are still in debt.

Will lessons learned from the Phase 1 area resettlement process be reflected in Phase 2? From what we are seeing so far, it seems many of the mistakes may be repeated.

Full EIA scoping reports not available in Burmese:

In January this year, EIA scoping reports for each of 3 subsections of the 700 ha area were disclosed. Both the summaries and full reports were disclosed in English, but in Burmese language, only summaries were provided.

At a meeting of JICA’s advisory committee, JICA was asked why the full reports were not disclosed in Burmese. JICA responded that it was not required by Myanmar law, and because JICA’s Guidelines also do not say that a summary of the EIA Scoping report is insufficient, there is no violation of JICA’s Guidelines.

Considering that residents in Phase 1 suffered enough to be compelled to file an official complaint to JICA, Mekong Watch is very disappointed by this response. JICA is well aware that the residents cannot read nor speak in English.

Only one copy of the reports for each village:

Once copy was sent to each village administrative office and made available for reading, but no one was allowed to take the document out of the office. With only one copy for all residents in each village, this is a significant obstacle for public comment.

Discrepancies in Translation:

There were differences in the English and Burmese language summaries. It is unclear which is the original, but the content should be the same, regardless. This problem needs to be addressed.

Timing of report disclosure and public comment:

For the EIA scoping consultations, the Logistic, Residence and Commercial Area of Zone B report was disclosed on January 18, and the deadline for public comment was January 31st. This was in spite of the fact that only English versions of the full reports were provided.

JICA knows from its experience with Phase 1 that strict monitoring is necessary to ensure and enable affected residents to fully participate in decision-making regarding how their lives will be impacted by the Thilawa SEZ. If Phase 2 is to go smoothly than Phase 1, JICA will need to be much more diligent than it currently is.


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Our Villages Aren’t Built on Coal

At the end of last year, activists and people from villages in Myanmar where Japanese companies are poised to build coal-fired power plants came to Japan to speak about their concerns. They made it clear that they are against the implementation of these projects at a public seminar hosted by Japanese NGOs. Below is an English translation (with some minor editing) of the seminar report.

Seminar Report:

“Messages from Myanmar…our villages aren’t built on coal”

Date: Nov 27, 2015 18:00-20:30
Place: GEOC

Organizers: FoE Japan, Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES), Mekong Watch, Kiko Network

Supporters: 350.org, A SEED Japan, Aryus Buddhist International Network, Fair Finance Guide Japan.


  1. “Japan-supported coal-fire power projects in other countries and Japan’s involvement in plans in Myanmar”
  2. Demands of Myanmar’s civil society to Japan
  3. Messages from local people from areas where Japanese companies are planning coal-fired power plants
    1. Mon State
    2. Ayeyarwady Region
    3. Tanintharyi Region

Content of Presentations

  1. “Coal-fired power plants in Asia supported by Japan, and Japanese involvement in electricity plans in Myanmar”
    (by Minari Tsuchikawa, Mekong Watch)

Tsuchikawa gave a comparative overview of support for coal-fired power generation by Japan and other countries. She also explained results of a survey that found that the quality of coal technology that Japan exports is of lower quality than the technology used in Japan, particularly in regard to technology to reduce air pollution (in areas of efficiency and concentration of pollutants). JBIC’s environmental guidelines require projects to meet local and World Bank standards and to refer to the best practices in developed countries like Japan. But so far, JBIC has failed to encourage the best practices or best available technology to be installed in coal plants abroad . This would happen in Myanmar as well, so damage to the environment and health hazards to local residents are a serious concern.

  1. Demands of Myanmar’s civil society to Japan: “Myanmar and Coal—Japan’s involvement and a message from Myanmar citizens”
    (by Thant Zin, Dawei Development Association)

Thant Zin explained the local situation and expressed dissent against construction of coal-fired power plants. There is some coal mining in Myanmar, but the quality is not very good. Coal currently accounts for only about 2% of Myanmar’s power generation, but the Myanmar government intends to increase coal mining. There is currently one coal-fired power plant in commission. Two have been stopped due to lack of coal. There are plans for 14 more, though the world is moving towards limiting investment in coal.

Candidate locations for power plants in Myanmar are often near the border areas to enable export of electricity to Thailand and other neighboring countries, but these areas are politically unstable. Current plans for coal-fire power plant construction are also for electricity export. As for electricity for domestic consumption, it is a mistake to promote an energy policy using large coal-fired power plants in a country like Myanmar that still does not have a power grid that can handle large-scale power generation. Several villages united in protest, and a demonstration in one village gathered and unprecedented 6,000 people.

Thant Zin pointed out that development in Myanmar is not being implemented in line with JICA and JBIC guidelines/safeguard policies. Promote power plant construction for political reasons will not lead to positive results for local people. To alleviate climate change, it is important to go in the direction desired by local people and look beyond short-term investment. People with long term vision need to work together for the good of everyone.

  1. Messages to Japan from people from various locations where Japanese companies are planning to build coal-fired power plants.

i) Mon State (by Ni Mar Oo, Ann Din Youth)

Ni Mar Oo came to Japan to explain the negative impacts of TTCL’s promotion of coal-fired power generation on local people and how local people are against the construction. The main livelihood of people there is betel palm production, and there are many people who make their livelihood on farming and fishing. Some laborers from outside the village also come to Ann Din to work. Local people are concerned that the coal-fired power plant will destroy their traditional ways of life. Local people are currently satisfied with their current lifestyle and do not want nor need coal-fired power generation.

TTCL is promoting the project in a way that ignores the rights of villagers (e.g. disclosing information only in English that villagers cannot understand; coercing signatures, propaganda promoting coal-fired power generation, holding an information public hearing 14 miles away from Ann Din village, etc). TTCL and the Myanmar government signed an MOA without local people’s knowledge. Though the power plant is to be constructed just one mile from the village, the village will not be supplied with electricity from it. Villagers are strongly opposed to it.

A letter was prepared to submit to relevant parties, and Ni Mar Oo and her colleagues had hoped to meet Toyo Engineering while in Japan, as Toyo Engineering is TTCL’s largest shareholder. Their request for a meeting was refused, so they submitted the letter to the company’s receptionist.

ii) Ayeyarwady Region (by Moe Kyaw Thu, Beautiful Beach Development Network (BBDN))

Ayeyarwady Region is a long and narrow area of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Arakan Mountains, where it is difficult to secure enough drinking water (especially in March and April during the dry season). The main industries are agriculture and fishing. Rice and groundnuts are grown (after harvesting rice, groundnuts are planted). Jobs do not depend on electricity production, and people live sufficiently with 4 hours of electricity a day.

The Myanmar government plans to provide electricity to this area in 2016, but people are worried that the natural environment will be destroyed. There are still areas with forests from long ago, and coal reefs line the coast. It is a beautiful area and is known as Southeast Asia’s longest coastal resort area, so it is also being considered for eco-tourism. To protect this beautiful environment, local people are protesting the coal-fired power plant.

8,684 signatures were collected for a petition protesting the coal-fired power plant and submitted it to the Myanmar government, Mitsubishi’s Yangon office, and Mitsubishi’s headquarters.

The Myanmar government and Ayeyarwady Regional government says it will not proceed without the agreement of the people, but people are still worried that construction will start against their will. Ni Mar Oo explained that the coal-fired power plant plans are proceeding according to the will of large corporations, and against the wishes of local people.

iii) Tanintharyi Region (by San Ngwe, Southern Youth)

San Ngwe came to Japan to convey concerns about Marubeni’s coal-fired power plant plans. In October 2014, Marubeni and the Myanmar Government signed an MOU, but residents did not know about this.

In the region, local khan zaw oil (baccaurea sapida ) trees have been grown and harvested. It is a special area in Tanintharyi Region. It is a politically unstable area, as there are two governments (Myanmar government and the Karen National Union government). Currently there is a ceasefire agreement, but there are still disagreements between the two governments and fighting between the Myanmar Government and Karen National Union could resume at any time. Land ownership is ambiguous, making land confiscation a particular concern. To construct a power plant in an area like this has very large risks, and people want Marubeni to know this and to cancel their construction plan.


Q: What is the current situation of each plan?
A: (separate responses from each speaker)
– The MOA has been signed for the power plant in Mon State, but construction has not started yet. When TTCL representatives came to the village, villagers chased them out, and nothing has happened since then. But we are still worried.
– In Nga Yoke Kaung, the MOU has not been signed yet.
– In Tharabwin, the MOU was signed in October 2014, but residents did not know about it until March 2015. Since then, they have been protesting. I don’t think that construction can start in this situation.

Q: You mentioned ambiguous land rights. What kinds of problems are there?
A: According to Myanmar law, land, air, and water are owned by the State, but different people have different ideas on what comprises the “State.” The central government says that “State” means “central government,” but residents say that “State” includes its citizens. Also, if you look at a Myanmar map, there are differences in maps made by the central government and maps made by the Karen National Union (KNU). So even looking at maps, areas included in the “State” are different. In areas of overlapping jurisdiction, residents must register their land usage under both the Myanmar government and the KNU. This makes ownership ambiguous even on paper, so if land is confiscated in such an area, confusion will arise. We want Japanese companies and other parties involved to understand this. Japanese companies only talk to the central government, but we want them to listen to the local residents too.

Q: What is the condition of damage in the marine environment due to climate change?
A: I believe that Myanmar is one of the countries easily impacted by climate change. We have had massive flooding throughout the country this year, and this may be due to climate change. The government has promised not to deforest any more, but classification of forests is difficult. Some areas have mixed natural forest and plantation forests. The government says they will not deforest any more, but it cannot be trusted.

The original report was posted in Japanese on sekitan.jp’s website. Click here or use the link below to see the original report.

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[Seminar] Outdated Coal for a New Myanmar?! Coal is not our Future.

We Can’t Build our Future on Coal-Fired Power Plants
-A Message from Myanmar/Burma’s Villages to the People of Japan-

Nov 27, 2015 (Fri) 18:00-20:30
Organized by: Mekong Watch, JACSES, FOE Japan, Kiko Network
Location: Global Environmental Outreach Centre (Tokyo)
(1st Floor of UN University, between Shibuya and Omotesando)

Local people from communities in Myanmar/Burma where coal-fired power plants are being planned are coming to Japan. They want people in Japan to know that they do not want coal-fired power plants. Why are they coming here? Because in spite of the international movement away from coal, the communities are worried that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will support Japanese companies who want to construct such plants in several locations.

The people of Myanmar have made it clear with the recent elections that they want a new government–one that will listen to their voices. At this exciting time of opportunity to develop a political and economic system that has the long-term interests of its people at its foundation, we hope that the Japanese government and JBIC will set an example and listen, and listen very carefully.

The communities are raising their voices loud and clear. Last May, thousands protested plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Mon State (see 6,000 residents of Mon State say “No!”)

At this seminar, villagers from several locations will come to speak on how they feel about Japanese companies’ plans to build coal-fired power plants in their communities. Local activists will also accompany them and provide the most current information on the situation of energy and coal-fired energy in Myanmar. It will also be a good opportunity to examine Japan’s aid policy at this critical time.

Seminar Program (subject to change):
1) Japan’s involvement in coal-fired power plants abroad and in Myanmar (in Japanese)
2) Presentations by Burmese activists: “No Coal! Myanmar’s Energy Sector and the potential for local renewable energy production (in Burmese with Japanese interpretation. English translation can be provided if necessary.)
3) Testimonies/Messages from villagers of three project sites (Tanintharyi and Ayeyarwady Regions and Mon State).

To attend:
Register through FoE Japan (in Japanese)
Or just show up!

Inquiries: <info@mekongwatch.org> (in English OK)

holding no coal signs

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Dawei: Lost in Development (video)

For a 17-minute introduction to the difficulties being faced by people living around the Dawei SEZ Development Project, see the video below (with Japanese subtitles).

It includes interviews with villagers who lost jobs, land, or homes.

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We don’t want compensation…

“We take good care of our land. It’s thanks to the land that we can live. We don’t want compensation. Compensation doesn’t last. We can’t pass it on to our children. If we can pass on the land, we have nothing to worry about for our descendants.”

MW staff had an opportunity to speak with a woman from a village affected by road construction being done as part of the Dawei Special Economic Zone Development Project (Dawei SEZ) in Southern Burma. When we asked her how villagers found out about the project, she explained how bulldozers suddenly showed up and started tearing up some of the villagers’ fields.

We will put up more information about expected social and environmental  impacts of the SEZ soon. In the meantime, a photo of villagers engaged in rotational upland rice farming along the road link from Dawei to the Thai border.


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Local groups demand accountability upon Japan’s announcement of official involvement in the Dawei SEZ

On August 4th, local community groups from Dawei (southern Burma) sent a letter to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) after Japan officially announced its involvement in the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development project and related projects.

This is a joint letter submitted by 2 local groups and the Dawei Development Association (DDA), who sent a letter last April to warn Japanese government agencies  of the already existing problems and risks related to the project. Now that the Japanese government has officially joined the Dawei SEZ development project–in spite of the existing problems–the three groups not only raise concerns about expected future problems, but emphasize that Japan is now also responsible for addressing already existing and outstanding environmental and social impacts related to the project. Continue reading

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