The Kheshorter forest. Photo - KESAN/Supplied

A film on the Kheshorter forest showcases Karen tradition and raises awareness about deforestation in Myanmar.

Read more: Of trees and men


KUALA LUMPUR  - One in four people in Myanmar live in low-quality housing, exposing them to greater threats during natural disasters, the United Nations said Friday.

Read more: Millions of improved homes needed in Myanmar to cut disaster risk: UN


Myanmar’s renewed interest in coal carries broader risks for the administration. But although a more forward-thinking approach towards greener energy is desirable, renewables come with their own problems.

Local and national opposition to a proposed coal plant in Kayin state, eastern Myanmar, has exposed Myanmar’s energy security dilemma. Activists argue the project will have a range of negative impacts, encouraging land grabbing; polluting air and water supplies; ruining local livelihoods; and exacerbating already poor public health across the region.

Approximately one-third of Myanmar’s citizens have electricity access – among the lowest rates in Asia. Low energy security has particularly hampered economic growth and the livelihoods of citizens in rural areas, where electricity is most scarce. Nevertheless, focusing on coal power creates unnecessary risks and ignores viable renewable alternatives for rural communities.

The government’s plans

Under its National Electrification Project (NEP), the government plans to connect 100% of homes to the national grid by 2030. This ambitious 15-year project involves expanding the grid to a further 40,000 villages, drawing on investments of US$5.8bn. A central aspect of these plans is to increase coal’s total contribution to the grid from 3% to 30%. This represents a huge success for coal lobbyists, and reflects the industry’s revival across South and Southeast Asia.

Major financial institutions have thrown their weight behind Myanmar, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The World Bank has pledged US$1bn and provided a further US$400m in loans to expand the current grid, with the remainder coming from a variety of initiatives and foreign-funded projects.

For the government, coal provides an efficient and cheap power source and will contribute greatly to Myanmar’s energy security. Data shows the Kayin plant alone will increase Myanmar’s total electricity production by 25%. Myanmar’s grid is currently over-reliant on hydropower, causing the country to suffer from regular blackouts during the dry season. Opposition to hydropower has also grown due to the controversy surrounding the Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam, causing delays to most of Myanmar’s other planned hydropower projects.

NLD spokesperson Win Htein noted the potential value of coal in locations where hydropower no longer seems viable. The government plans to proceed with the Kayin state plant, one of eleven plants commissioned under the NEP. It will be run by the Thailand-based Toyo-Thai Corporation Public Company Limited (TTCL).


Read more: Coal Uprisings Expose Myanmar’s Energy Dilemma


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