Activists Warn Karen State Villagers Against Coal

A new network of activists and civil society groups has been warning Karen State residents of the dangers of coal through environmental awareness trainings held from July 20 to August 5.

The Karen State government greenlit a 1280-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Hpa-An township to be built by joint Thai-Japanese company Toyo-Thai Corporation. The power plant would sit between Wut Gyi, Htone Taung, and Thone Ein villages.

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) was carried out in June, according to local residents, who added that they had little knowledge of what was being surveyed.

“The local residents didn’t understand when [the surveyors] came in abruptly and did the measurements. The measurements were made on some local residents’ farms. The local residents lack information [about the project] and they have big concerns,” said Saw Sar Htoo, a resident of Htone Taung Village.

In response to news of the controversial coal plant and the perceived information deficit, environmental activists and members of local civil society organizations joined forced to create the Karen State Coal Working Group in June.

“We made contact with respective villages and taught them the pros and cons of [coal plants] as well as issues with the environment and laws. We have also taught them about FPIC [free, prior and informed consent], which is the rights of the indigenous people,” said working group trainer Saw Thar Boe.

News of the coal plant, and of Myanmar’s plan to increase reliance on coal, has sparked a backlash.

In June, around three dozen Karen CSOs released a statement denouncing the use of coal and demanding the government look to renewable energy options in order to meet the surging electricity demand. More than 100 groups around the country signed the statement in a show of support.

According to estimates by the Asian Development Bank, Myanmar’s electricity demand grows by 13% each year, with a projected need for 13,410 MW by 2030. The government hopes to meet much of that demand through “clean” coal plants. However, environmental groups fear ash and other emissions spit out from coal-fired power plants will lead to air and water pollution, and dramatically increase Myanmar’s carbon emissions.

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