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.

Program:

  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&A

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.
http://sekitan.jp/jbic/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/20151127_%E3%83%9F%E3%83%A3%E3%83%B3%E3%83%9E%E3%83%BC%E3%82%BB%E3%83%9F%E3%83%8A%E3%83%BC%E3%83%A1%E3%83%A2.pdf

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