Development or Destruction? The human rights impacts of hydropower development on villagers in Southeast Myanmar


You are here

Development or Destruction? The human rights impacts of hydropower development on villagers in Southeast Myanmar

Published date:
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Proponents of hydropower development in Southeast Myanmar see dams as a reliable, cheap and clean energy source essential for the sustained development of the region. Hydropower dams would also reduce the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels. However, dam projects in rural ethnic areas have historically been the sites of violent conflict. Dams are often associated with infringements of human and socio-economic rights. Villagers in these areas often face the immediate and long-term negative impacts of dams, while receiving little in return. This is because hydropower development tends to benefit a narrow set of local and national elites. Because some of the planned hydropower dams are set to export electricity to neighbouring states, they would result in few long-term benefits for Myanmar. Many of these proposed projects are designed primarily to export electricity to Thailand or China. The Mong Ton (Tasang) Dam, for example, would export 90 percent of its generated electricity to Thailand.

Executive summary

In Southeast Myanmar, electrification rates are among the lowest in the country, particularly in rural, conflict-affected areas near the border of Thailand. Myanmar’s ambitious National Electrification Plan (NEP) aims to provide electricity access to all Myanmar households by 2030. In response to the NEP and other national development goals, Myanmar’s Energy Master Plan (MEMP) projects electricity demand to rise by 10 percent annually through 2030. To meet future demands, Myanmar must expand its energy infrastructure. Currently, hydropower comprises two-thirds of Myanmar’s electricity generation capacity. Both the MEMP and alternative visions of electricity infrastructure development in Myanmar rely on hydropower as a key source of electricity through 2050, and include provisions for the export of hydropower to neighboring countries.

Myanmar needs to acknowledge and address a number of salient concerns if it going to use hydropower to meet its future electricity needs.

Most of Myanmar’s abundant hydropower resources are located in ethnic areas, particularly Kayin, Kayah, Kachin, and Shan States, all of which are sites of ongoing ethnic conflicts and armed tension. In many cases, development of large dams in ethnic areas has resulted in conflict, severe social and environmental impacts for local communities and human rights violations. The overwhelming majority (42 of 50) of large hydropower projects planned in Myanmar in recent years have been situated in ethnic areas. With many more projects slated for development in these areas, this report highlights how hydropower projects impact ethnic communities in Southeast Myanmar.

This report aims to encourage reforms in the hydropower sector by building comprehensive recommendations for policymakers and hydropower developers. The report supports recommendations using the results of new research highlighting how hydropower projects have impacted ethnic communities in Southeast Myanmar. Report commentary assesses the degree to which Myanmar’s legal and regulatory frameworks measure up against international best standards and practices for hydropower governance. The report concludes with comprehensive recommendations on how to strengthen these national frameworks in order to provide greater social and environmental safeguards for rural ethnic communities impacted by hydropower dams.

“If the dam is constructed, there will be flooding over all the villages, including villagers’ land, farms and plantations around that area. They [villagers] do not want it because the dam construction project will cause flooding. The flooding will drown all of their land and farms. Because of this, we will not have land to farm for our livelihoods.”

Pu Bm--- , (male), Bn--- village, Ler Muh Lah Township, Mergui-Tavoy District/ Tanin tharyi Region (Interviewed in March 2017)

Map of Proposed and completed dams in Southeast Myanmar



Selected list of planned and implemented dams in research areas in Southeast Myanmar





Installed          capacity

Estimated completion  date




Hlaingbwe Township

1380 Mega Watt

2021 - 2022

EGAT, Tyrone Henry Holding Co.Ltd.


Thauk Yay Hkat I

Thandtaung Township

120 Mega Watt

Not specific

Asia World



Kyaukkyi  Township

160 Mega Watt

2021 - 2022

Norway NVE



Bilin Township

280 Mega Watt

2021 – 2022




Kawkareik Township

5 Mega Watt

Not specific

Not specific



Kyain Seikgyi Township

120 Mega Watt

Not specific




Hteekhee Township

200 Mega Watt

Not specific

Thailand + Myanmar


Shwegyin (Kyauk Naga)

Shwegyin Township

75 Mega Watt

2008 –  completed 

China + Japan


Thauk Yay Hkat II

Toungoo Township

120 Mega Watt

2010 –  completed

Asia World


Pa Thi

Toungoo Township

10 Mega Watt

2008 –  completed 

Not specific



This section is designed to provide recommendations for Myanmar government authorities, Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), civil society organisations and business actors that have a stake in hydropower projects in Myanmar. KHRG and KRW believe that the following recommendations are crucial to achieving inclusive development, social cohesion, and sustainable peace in Southeast Myanmar, and the Union as a whole.

KHRG and KRW recognise that rural communities in Southeast Myanmar are disproportionately exposed to the negative impacts of large hydropower projects. The following recommendations are modelled to address experiences and demands of these rural communities. Their voices are essential in debates on hydropower governance.

Recommendations to the Myanmar government

The Myanmar government has achieved substantial progress in bringing its investment and environmental laws in line with international laws and best practices. However, as this report reveals, the adherence to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedural guidelines during the process of project approval needs to be strengthened.

Myanmar’s citizens are concerned about the lack of transparency in the country. To increase accountability, the Myanmar government should:

1. Strengthen MONREC’s mandate to ensure that project implementers:
    a. Disclose information about the project,  
    b. Conduct consultations and stakeholder engagement at national, state, township, and local levels with communities, relevant government institutions, and other stakeholders, in accordance        with Myanmar’s EIA procedures.

2. Ensure that the completion of EIA should not grant development permits by default, bearing in mind that:
    a. EIA evaluation should be held to a high degree of scrutiny.
    b. In absence of comprehensive Environmental Management Plan (EMP) that is deemed acceptable by the affected communities, permits must not be issued for projects with high social and        environmental risks.
    c. MOEE and MONREC should work together to proactively identify potential environmental and social issues and work to alter the project at the Concept and Pre-Feasibility Phase stage rather than waiting for the feasibility assessment and environmental and social impact assessment process to be commenced.

3. Ensure that the reasoning behind positive or negative EIA approval decision is made publicly available, by:
    a. Translating the EIAs and EMPs, and their compliance monitoring documents, into local languages.
    b. Ensuring that these documents are accessible and readily understood by local communities.

Because many hydropower projects were approved before EIA requirements were mandated by Myanmar law in 2016, they lack comprehensive assessments of the impacts on local communities.

4. To remedy this situation, the Myanmar government should ensure that projects approved before 2016 are required to produce EIA before project implementation takes places, and that they are not exempt from the scrutiny required by the modern EIA procedures.
Since most hydropower projects are planned in ethnic areas, the Myanmar government must:

5. Ensure that hydropower projects do not jeopardise peace and stability, by respecting the commitments enshrined in Chapter 3 of the NCA.
6. Require actors to undertake comprehensive conflict vulnerability assessments for hydropower projects in ethnic areas.

Construction of large-scale hydropower dams in ethnic areas has proven to heighten the risk of armed conflict between Myanmar Government Armed Forces and Ethnic Armed Groups. The stability of the NCA and the peace process negotiations should be the top priority. Therefore,

7. The Myanmar Government must assure that implementation and planning of large scale hydropower projects in Myanmar Ethnic areas should be suspended until a comprehensive nationwide peace agreement is reached.

Overwhelming evidence from Pa Thi, Thauk Yay Khat and other sites suggest that the civil society actors and that dam affected villagers that they are aiming to  support are subjected to pressure and threats by both governmental and corporate actors. Therefore, the Myanmar government must ensure that:

8. Civil society actors are able to freely and without intimidation advocate for their objectives.
9. No barriers are set in place for villagers to benefit from the material, technical and legal aid offered by civil society actors.

10. The villagers whose lands were arbitrarily confiscated are not subjected to legal harassment or intimidation by businesses.

Recommendations for companies involved in hydropower projects

Companies intent on building hydropower dams in Myanmar should:

1. Adhere to EIA procedures to minimise the environmental and social impacts of hydropower dams on local communities impacted by them.
2. Consider EIAs, as mandated by Myanmar laws and regulations, to be the bare minimum standard that companies should aim to surpass.

Too often, local communities do not have access to meaningful consultations about the impacts of hydropower dams. To meet the requirements of domestic and international laws and regulations, companies must:

3. Ensure that consultations are held early in EIA mapping processes, and continue throughout project implementation. In doing so, community concerns can be incorporated in the design, implementation and operation stages of hydropower projects.
4. Make consultations accessible to local communities by:
    a. Bearing all community’s expenses related to the participation in EIA and consultation processes as mandated by EIA Procedure.
    b. Holding consultations in easily accessible locations and during flexible hours.

5. Guarantee that consultations are accessible to local communities, by:
     a. Holding consultations in local languages, and disseminating information in a way that is sensitive to the local context, avoiding the use of overly technical terminology.
     b. Facilitating the participation of groups traditionally excluded from decision-making processes, including women and minorities.

6. Ensure that newly available information relevant to the project planning, implementation and operation stages is made continuously available throughout the project timeline.

Most planned hydropower sites are located in ethnic areas. To reduce the possibility of tensions or an outbreak of violence, companies should:

7. Undertake comprehensive conflict sensitivity assessments and plans to mitigate possible risks of building hydropower dams in ethnic areas.
8. Ensure that the consultations for projects in ethnic areas are held to the highest degree of scrutiny that far exceeds the minimum EIA requirements by:
    a. Identifying potential unintended consequences in conflict-prone areas and developing comprehensive plans to address them before and throughout the consultation processes.
    b. Build trust with local communities to achieve a higher degree of public participation in consultation and planning processes.
   c. Affected communities should remain the core focus of consultation processes, EAOs and other armed groups should not pose as affected communities’ representatives throughout the project cycle.

Myanmar law lacks necessary safeguards to secure and protect ethnic communities’ housing, land and property rights. Until the necessary legal protections are put in place under Myanmar law, companies should:

9. Adhere to International Finance Corporation Standard 7 on Indigenous Peoples and Performance Standard 5 on Land Acquisition and Involuntary resettlement  as guiding principles for hydropower project-related land acquisition procedures.

Communities that have been displaced due to hydropower projects are entitled to compensation under national and international laws. Companies should:

10. Ensure that negotiations with the affected communities are held to define adequate compensation, considering different types of remedies, such as    monetary compensation, offering land of equal value, or alternative compensation packages.
11. Ensure that commitments on compensation are followed through by formalising legally binding agreements between the company and affected villagers.
12. Ensure that the type and amount of compensation provided will be distributed in a transparent and fair manner to different community members.
13. Ensure that affected communities are not coerced or threatened into accepting compensation packages that they deem unfair or inadequate.

Recommendations for all stakeholders

Governmental actors, EAOs, companies and civil society organisations should work to ensure the benefits of large hydropower projects are shared with communities, by:

1. Distributing a share of the profits from hydropower dams to local communities.
2. Including benefit sharing in the hydropower dam’s planning, separate from compensation and mitigation packages.
3. Considering diverse benefit sharing mechanisms, including direct payments, community development funds, employment and supply chain opportunities, associated infrastructure or public service investment.