A group of Thai media from TV, newspapers and online news agencies, visited Myeik Township, Tanintharyi region during 26-28 August 2015 for their fact-finding on Thailand-invested coal-fired power plant in the southern region of Myanamr. Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding(RATCH) and other 3 companies earlier signed an MoU with Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power to invest in THB 170,000 million powerplant project, with installed capacity of 2,640 megawatt.
Local villagers expressed their strong opposition to the project, saying they submitted petition opposing the project to various authorities as they believe the plant would be devastating to the environment and livelihoods.
The meeting between Thai media and local villagers was held in Mwae Shawng village, where the construction site will be located, attended by more than 50 villagers from surrounding villages. Kyaw Kyaw, a village leader said that the project will affect thousands of people living along the Tanasserim River. He said in 2014 companies organized 2 meetings to inform villagers about the construction. The first meeting was attended by only a small group of villagers. However, in the second meeting, there were hundreds of villagers attended. In the meeting villagers expressed their concerns over damaging impacts of the powerplant, especially for wastewater that would flow into their farmlands, paddy fileds, and rivers. “We will fight until our last breath, until the end,” he said.
Than Kyaw, a farmer, said that villages situated around the proposed powerplant have been there more than 100 years. “Agriculture is our main livelihoods contributing to our community economy. The companies attempted to make a survey in the area as well as to negotiate with local residents to gain acceptance. However, most of villagers did not accept the conditions. There are experiences on empty promises and land confiscation. We need our lands. For sure, electricity is not what we need.”
He also asked Myanmar Government to recognize that it is the era of democracy. All details of development projects should be clearly informed to local people.
“Our community members once visited the power plant in Kawthaung and mining sites Dawei, where people live in bigger houses with electricity and TVs, but their river is polluted. Fish from the river are poisoned. The harvested rice and vegetables are not safe to eat. When they get sick, there is not enough income to cover the hospital and medicine bills. Everything is dirty. Powerplant comes with pollutions. We prefer living in good environment without electricity, rather than living in developed community but dirty air and polluted water”, said Than Kyaw.
After the meeting, villagers took the group of Thai media to the construction site on the Tanasrerim riverbank, surrounded by villagers’ farmland. The area is abundant providing irrigation for their farms throughout the year, yet located not far from the sea.
Aung Naing Oo, a leader of the ’88 Generation in Tanasserim Region said during the interview to the group of Thai media that Myeik coal-fired powerplant project is likely to negatively affect at least 25 villages. There will be five villages that might be relocated, including 1. Mwae Shawng 2. Tone Byaew 3. San set 4. War rit 5. Thapya gone. Villagers have actively run their campaigns such as awareness raising, meetings, and protest. Moreover, the ’88 Generation students group has also informed Thai Embassy in Myanmar to request Thai government to halt the project.
“In Myanmar, our environmental law has not been officially enacted. While the world is concerning about climate change, environmental problems, and pollutions, the Myanmar investment committee has still been promoting these kinds of devastating projects,” said Aung Naing Oo.
The member of the ’88 Generation also stated that in present, electricity cost in Tanasserim is among the highest in the country, up to 300 – 1,000 Kyat per unit. “It is unfair to export our electricity to Thailand. It is not convincing at all that electricity rate in Myeik will be cheaper if the coal powerplant is constructed here, as the companies claimed. According to academic papers, local usage of electricity will not exceed 50 MW. So, almost all power from the 2,000 MW plant would be exported to Thailand. In the past 10 years, natural gas in Myeik has been exported to Thailand with no benefit to the locals. Now they want to build another giant coal powerplant again. If it is a good project, why don’t they build in Thailand, just across the border in Prachuabkhirikhan?”
Aung Naing Oo hopes that Thai government and companies would reconsider the plan. Coal-fired plant is not the good choice. “We request their sympathy for Myanmar farmers. Thai government should talk to its counterpart and consider alternatives. Both governments should care about quality of life of populations whose lives depend on natural resources. Experiences from the controversial Map Ta Phut industrial estate show that the town is no longer a nice place to live. Governments should learn the lessons form Map Ta Phut. Once the plant is there, it’s the death of river, farms, and our livelihoods.
“We believe that the project is promoted by two governments, hand in hand.”
The visit of Thai Media also drew attention of from Myanmar national media. The Daily Eleven, one of Myanmar’s top daily newspapers had the headline news on 28 August about the visit, and the opposition of local people to the project.
Note: Names of villagers are not their real names, for security reason
(Translated from Thai-language news on 31 August 2015 https://transbordernews.in.th/home/?p=9659)