Villagers in Nat Gon and nearby villages of Hpa-an Township, Karen State panicked after noticing their water sources had turned black. They are now too scared to drink the water.
In early October, villages in Bar Kat village tract, about one mile in the west of Hpa-an town, found their water water-wells, ponds and streams had turned dark making them scared to use the water.
Villagers blame the changing water colour on the nearby Myaing Galay cement plant that uses coal to power it. The villagers say it looks like coal dumped from the plant spread into village water sources.
Myaing Galay Cement Plant, owned by the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) a major conglomerate and holding company operated by the Burmese military under the Defense Ministry.
Permission to operate the cement plant using coal power has not officially been granted, as it is still at the pilot stage. Since it was proposed to run the cement plant using coal power back in September 2016, villagers at the time strongly opposed the plan, but it went ahead with the pilot stage.
Saw A’Ti, village chief from Nat Gon village told Karen News when villagers noticed the water colour turning black they are too afraid to drink water from local sources.
“The changing colour of the water is easy to identify now there is less water in the sources.” Saw A’Ti said. “It is easy to see it in the ponds. Debris emerges as water levels go down. We used to drink water from there, but are too afraid to drink it now.”
Residents said the condition of the water is an economic burden for villagers, as they have to buy drinking water now rather than getting it from their wells or streams.
Nan Khin Htwe Myint, chief minister of Karen State and other State Government officials visited the affected villages on October 11 to inspect the water sources.
Water sample were taken for testing to find out if it is harmful or contains any substance from coal. Chief Minister Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint said that the water might not be harmful, but if anything is wrong with the water, she will sue the factory if any harmful substances are found in the water.
Speaking to reporters at Nat Gon village where she was inspecting the water, the Chief Minister said.
“If there is anything wrong with the water I will efforts to sue. When I do that, people will need to be with me. If the people do not cooperate with me, it will be useless to do it.”
The residents of 30 villages close to Nat Gon village fear they could be facing similar water problems if the situation does not improve.