Burma Makes U-turn on Lemro Electricity Deals
17 November 2012: The government of Burma has scrapped its plans to sell electricity generated by the Lemro dam under construction in Chin State to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed earlier this week said Burma called off its interest in exporting electricity due to power shortages in the country.
A resource-rich country of Burma made a U-turn on its agreement with Bangladesh during a two-day meeting of the sixth Bangladesh-Burma joint trade commission (JTC) held in Dhaka.
Burma had agreed to export 500 megawatt electricity from hydro-power projects in Rakhine and Chin States, according to sources from Bangladesh Commerce Ministry.
“It is great to hear that the electricity would not be sold to Bangladesh. But the big question is: will the electricity actually be provided for the local community?” voiced a community leader from Mindat Township.
Construction of the Lemro dam project, a joint investment between China and Burma starting in 2009, is taking place on Lemro river, locally called Phunglong, in Paletwa Township of Chin State.
The Lemro river, also spelled as Laymyo in Burmese, arises in Matupi Township, runs across three other townships in southern parts of Chin State such Mindat, Paletwa, and Kanpetlet, and continues south in Rakhine State into the Bay of Bengal.
Benefits to Local Community
The Lemro dam construction has started near Khopheishei and Tanthawng villages in the posterior part of Paletwa Township in Chin State with no impacts assessments and no prior consultation with the local community.
Grave concerns have been raised by Chin community over possible negative impacts on the environment and livelihoods of the people following the secretive activities about the ongoing dam construction.
Earlier this year, it was reported that 90 percent of electricity generated from the Lemro dam project upon completion would be sold to Bangladesh and the remaining 10 percent profits pocketed to Thein Sein’s government.
“Although the government announced its cancellation of plans to export, it does not clearly say where the electricity would be used for and given to,” said Pastor Shwekey Hoipang, originally from Kyunglong, one of the villages in Mindat township that Lemro river passes.
“Since we don’t have road transportation infrastructure in our areas, people use Lemro river with their own bamboo rafts to sell local products to surrounding villages and Rakhine State,” added the Dai Chin pastor.
A Facebook campaign ‘Save Lemro River’ was set up in protest against the dam construction in an attempt to secure the Lemro river, which has served the local people as the main source for their day-to-day survival.
“We don’t know exactly how many villages or people will be affected. But what we know is that damming on the Lemro river is like breaking our rice pots,” said one of the campaign organizers, from a Dai Chin community.
It is claimed that at least 60 villages with an estimated 20,000 locals in the areas would be directly affected with possible forced relocation in southern parts of Chin State.
“Now, authorities have threatened local people by interrogating reporters and leaders who were accused of stealing construction materials and passing information to media agencies,” added the Dai Chin campaigner.
Ongoing Electricity Problems
Authorities of Chin State government announced yesterday that electricity supply in Hakha, Chin State will be reduced to only twice a week from every two nights from 6pm till 10pm.
“Households in the town of Hakha who have got electric meter boxes in their houses are informed that they will receive electricity once in four nights. In addition, it is not regular. Sometimes, we have only got once a week,” a Chin resident in Hakha told Chinland Guardian.
School students in Kanpetlet, Mindat and Thantlang face difficulties in studying and working on their homework at night due to electricity shortages worsened in recent weeks, according to Khonumthung.
“We have electricity twice a week for about three hours each time. Authorities said they have to reduce electric supply because their generators are not working. People cannot afford to buy candles every night or pay for private electric generators,” a Chin reporter from Paletwa told Chinland Guardian.
People across Burma have continuously faced electricity shortages for decades while the country is known for exporting electricity to neighbouring countries such as China and Thailand.
Van Biak Thang