Myanmar: environmental impact assessment workshop held in Kyauk Phyu

The ICJ held a workshop on Environmental Impact Assessment in Kyauk Phyu on 17-18 September 2016. Thirteen women and 30 men attended from Kyauk Phyu town, its surrounding villages and the regional capital Sittwe.

Kyauk Phyu is the proposed site for a megaproject to include a Special Economic Zone and deep seaport in Myanmar’s westernmost Rakhine State.

A Chinese company plans to develop the projects and the newly elected Myanmar Government is considering its future.

The EIA workshop included lawyers and civil society representatives as well as village administrators from each of the nine village administrative tracts in the proposed SEZ area.

An EIA is designed to avoid, minimize, eliminate and reduce harmful impacts of development projects.

It can require revising plans, making alternative arrangements and even cancelling project components.

Myanmar law now requires EIAs, including in SEZs, under the 2014 SEZ Law and 2015 EIA Procedure. Health, livelihood and social impact assessments are critical to this process.

Projects may only commence after the Environment Ministry approves an EIA.

Sean Bain, ICJ Legal Consultant for Myanmar, shared updates from research on SEZ legal frameworks and project plans.

The ICJ’s Legal Researcher, U Hayman Oo, facilitated discussions and linked these laws with local developments.

Participants were encouraged to document their land and livelihoods so they may have an evidence base to refer to in future.

Matthew Baird, an environmental lawyer supporting both the Environment Ministry and civil society groups, outlined each step involved in an EIA.

He emphasized the importance of public participation throughout the process – particularly in the early screening and scoping stages.

Early community engagement is critical to influence the focus and scope of the investigation, which would inform the draft EIA Report developed by an EIA consultancy firm.

Daw Khin Su Su Naing, from Coffey, explained the role of the consultancy firms hired by companies to conduct EIAs.

She described how social impacts are assessed, providing examples from elsewhere in Myanmar. Public participation was again emphasised as crucial.

U Mya Hlaing, from the Thilawa Social Development Group, shared community experiences from the development of Myanmar’s only active SEZ – located in Thilawa, across the river from Yangon. Villagers resettled by the project remain concerned about the standard of relocation sites and loss of livelihood opportunities.

Community organizing in Thilawa has been an important factor in improving public participation in EIA and resettlement processes.

Dr Daniel Aguirre, the ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, discussed international business and human rights frameworks, and the monitoring role of civil society.

From Earth Rights International, U Zaw Zaw explained how an Operational Grievance Mechanism can be a useful tool for creating a communication channel between affected people and companies.

An OGM cannot solve all problems, but can help to discuss issues and remedies as they arise.

Many participants have experienced impacts from irresponsible and at times illegal business activities.

Kyauk Phyu hosts oil and gas facilities that serve a pipeline, finished in 2013, linking the Bay of Bengal with western China. No public EIA was conducted, and locals say the pipeline project led to land loss, deteriorating livelihoods and environmental pollution.

Many are still owed compensation and some were imprisoned for protesting to demand remedies.

Workshop participants expressed concerns that these problems will be repeated.

U Mya Hlaing encouraged locals in Kyauk Phyu to review the legal procedures and understand government obligations: “I am just a poorly educated farmer, but I have carefully read the laws and it has helped our community to demand our rights.”

He encouraged participants to raise concerns with Myanmar’s new governance bodies for SEZ management.

This was the ICJ’s third event in Kyauk Phyu over two years, with further initiatives planned.

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