IFC Helps Integrate Sustainability into Myanmar’s Hydro Future

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The FINANCIAL — IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the government of Myanmar’s Ministry of Electricity & Energy and the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environmental Conservation are working with stakeholders to produce a balanced countrywide strategic environmental and social assessment (SEA) that can be used as a planning tool by decision-makers to improve sustainably of the hydropower sector. 

Over 350 people from civil society, NGOs, private sector, and government participated in SEA workshops this week to prioritize environmental and social values related to riverine development in Myanmar. Their opinions and inputs will provide the foundation for the SEA. “Macro-level studies like the SEA are significant as that they include views from a diverse group of people,” said Vikram Kumar, IFC Myanmar Country Manager. “Shaping the SEA’s outcomes around stakeholder perspectives will improve standards and raise the bar for the hydropower sector.” 

Led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, Myanmar’s SEA is the first study of its kind that will focus on the country’s hydropower potential while bringing environmental and social considerations to the table. It analyzes high-level environmental and social risks on a scale of low, medium, and high across the country’s river basins. However, being identified by the SEA as a low-risk area is not a greenlight for hydro developers to proceed. It only indicates that these areas may provide more suitable opportunities than other areas that may be identified as critical habitat, biodiversity hotspots, culturally and socially important, or affected by conflict. The SEA is digging deeper into this level of criteria. A rigorous environmental and social impact assessment will still need to be completed for individual projects, according to IFC.

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“Through these workshops, we are building on our previous river-basin consultations and working to further understand stakeholder priorities and values that need to be taken into account.  We need to close the gaps on information and understand risks at a basin-wide level. If the hydropower market in Myanmar wants to expand, sustainability is a must,” said Kate Lazarus, IFC Environmental and Social Governance. “The SEA is innovative in that it is prioritizing stakeholder engagement and helping to forge relationships between the government and stakeholders–a big step forward.” 

While the SEA takes a country-wide perspective, addressing all river basins in Myanmar, IFC does not have any role in particular projects such as the Myitsone dam and does not plan to engage in large hydropower developments in the Ayeyarwady or Thanlwin river basins. Unlike environmental and social impact assessments that review individual projects, the SEA is analyzing basin-wide trends and risks. All future projects will still need to follow government procedures and conduct individual environmental and social-impact assessments. Launched in October 2016, the SEA is currently at the end of stage one of three. It is expected to be completed in October this year. 

Since September 2015, IFC, with support from the Australian government, has helped the government of Myanmar better manage risk by training officials on environmental and social standards in the hydropower sector. Ongoing training includes practical courses on IFC’s Performance Standards, environmental flows of hydropower projects and stakeholder engagement. In the near future, IFC will begin building capacity on environmental and social impact-assessment guidelines for the hydropower sector. 

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