Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Myanmar government seeks to avoid unrest at dam

A man gestures at an area of Pinlaung township, Shan State December 2012, that will be flooded for the Upper Paunglaung Dam. (Win Ko Ko Latt/The Myanmar Times)A man gestures at an area of Pinlaung township, Shan State December 2012, that will be flooded for the Upper Paunglaung Dam. (Win Ko Ko Latt/The Myanmar Times)

Residents who will be forced to move for a 140-megawatt hydropower dam in Shan State will receive farmland as compensation, while their new villages will have electricity and water connections, schools and monasteries, government officials said last week.

About 8000 residents from 23 villages will be forced to move for the Upper Paunglaung Dam in southern Shan State’s Pinlaung township, which is scheduled to begin supplying electricity to the national grid in 2015. About 5500 acres of arable land will be lost.

Seeking to avoid the unrest that has plagued other major development projects, the Ministry of Electric Power says it is negotiating with residents about how to compensate them for the move.

The 3000 households will begin moving to a new site once negotiations have concluded.

U Thaung Han, deputy director general of the ministry’s Department of Hydropower Implementation, said the move would give residents “better living conditions” in the long run.

“I will look after the needs of the villagers as much as possible and if something is above my authority I will submit it to the government through the ministry,” he told reporters late last month.

U Thaung Han said the government would spend more than K9 billion on the relocation, including creating new farmland and other fields and building a school and monastery.

He said residents would be given new land to cultivate and they will receive K300,000 an acre to cover the costs of preparing the land. However, it is not clear how much each household will receive.

Fifty percent of the total compensation will be paid when the villagers begin moving, while the remaining 50pc will be paid in two equal instalments. Officials declined to say when those payments would be made.

“We will provide compensation for houses based on their value. The villagers have to rebuild their houses by themselves. And we have calculated the cost of excavating new farmland at K300,000 an acre,” said U Win Zaw, director general of the department.

Residents said the K300,000 would be adequate but they also wanted to see proof that promised services would really be provided before they move.

“We demanded [that the government] provide free electricity for three years and that the water supply is established before moving,” said Ma Gyima from Ywargyi village.

U Thaung Han said the department would not only supply water and electricity to the relocated households but also provide free electricity meters. However, he stopped short of promising free electricity.

“For water supply, we will build water-storage ponds because the new village will be on a hill. But I can’t comment on the electricity price; there is nowhere in the country that receives free electricity,” said U Thaung Han.

Residents have also requested the government provide six acres of cultivable land to each household, provide subsidies because the new fields are unlikely to be as productive as those confiscated and issue ownership documents for the land.

They are also calling for 10 years worth of compensation for fields lost to the project.

“Our farmland can normally produce an average of 80 to 100 baskets of paddy an acre because the soil is fertile,” said Ma Gyima.

“We have demanded to provide subsidies for about two years and then to create job opportunities,” she said.

But U Win Zaw said the demands are unlikely to be met, as the terrain was not good for cultivation.

“For each household, six acres is probably going to be difficult because it is hard to find good land in this region,” he said.

U Win Zaw said the dam would begin storing water in the rainy season of 2014 and electricity would be generated from 2015.

According to Burma Rivers Network, construction and design of the Upper Paunglaung Dam is being overseen by Swiss company AF Colenco, while Yunnan Machinery Export Company, which was involved in the Lower Paunglaung Dam, will provide US$80 million of machinery and equipment. A British and German firm are also involved in the project.

Translated by Zar Zar Soe