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Some Key Issues in Myanmar Environmental Requirements for Hydropower Projects

Some Key Issues in Myanmar Environmental Requirements for Hydropower Projects

July 31, 2017

Myanmar is rich in various natural resources and has advantages due to its geographical location. It has huge water potential, with its four major river systems, which is essential for hydropower projects. The rising national power demand, appreciation of foreign investments by the government and high interest in the hydropower sector, all these factors are acting as catalysts to accelerate development and growth. It is expected that in the medium term there will be remarkable investments in this sector.

Hydropower plants are set up over such large areas that they lead to changes in the surroundings, due to which there are adverse environmental and social impacts. To limit these adverse effects, the Myanmar government has introduced comprehensive legal framework, comprised of the Environment Conservation Law 2012, Environment Conservation Rules 2014, the Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure 2015, the National Environment Quality (Emission) Guidelines 2015, Myanmar National Water Policy 2015 and the Conservation of Water Resources and River Law 2006.

According to notification 616/2015, known as the Environment Impact Assessment Procedure 2015 (“EIAP”), there are two major assessment requirements to implement the hydropower projects in Myanmar, depending upon its size, type and requirements: one is the Initial Environment Examination (“IEE”) and the other is the Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”).

Essentially, an EIA is a project-specific environmental impact assessment, which is required by the government of Myanmar, whereas an IEE is an initial ground-level assessment with limited scope to determine whether there is a need for an EIA or not.

Which project needs IEE and which does EIA?

According to the Annexure 1 (Categorization of Economic Activities for Assessment Purposes) of EIAP the following activities require IEE and EIA, respectively:

Initial Environmental ExaminationEnvironment Impact Assessment
Installed capacity ≥ 1 MW but < 15 MW
Reservoir volume (full supply level) < 20,000,000 m3
Reservoir area (full supply level) < 400 hectares
Installed capacity ≥ 15 MW
Reservoir volume (full supply level) ≥
20,000,000 m3
Reservoir area (full supply level) ≥ 400 hectares

What factors must be taken into consideration in an EIA for a hydropower project?

An ESIA should enumerate all possible environmental and social issues which may have adverse effects on the environment and on the existing social setup. It should give a clear picture of what the current situation is in the area where such a hydropower plant is proposed and what will be the situation after its establishment. It is necessary that the proposers of such project undertake the risks and mitigate them. It is very important to make the clauses in an ESIA well crystallized so that the government has a proper idea of all the factors involved in the implication of the project and the investor gets all the approvals from the government.

An EIA typically for a hydropower project should include baseline descriptions indicating the situation as it is now and impacts depicting the possible changes due to the project under the clauses like-

  • Hydrology depicting the hydrological characteristics of the area of influence. Under the baseline description it should provide information regarding existing flood risk for a range of annual exceedance probabilities for the project area of influence, soil and ground water infiltration, seasonal flow and extreme events including velocity and volume of the flow. The impact should concern the groundwater level after the construction of the project, the adverse effects on hydrological characteristics of the area of influence, etc.
  • Aquatic flora and fauna explaining the scope and methodologies used for conducting surveys; kinds of habitat, genetic diversity; economic, social and cultural values of species to be affected; list of threatened species; description of biota/biotic habitats; maps indicating the project site, survey site, location of species across the area of influence; etc. in its baseline description. The description of impacts should indicate the aggregate of species affected, change in biotic/abiotic habitats, impacts from vegetation clearing resulting to sediment loads being increased in rivers, etc.
  • Fisheries describing about fishing area across the area of influence, species caught both invertebrates and vertebrates, abundance and life cycles of these species, catch per unit effort from local fisheries, commercial use of these fishes, etc. The impact assessment should include an understanding of the likely impacts on particular species, access to fisheries as a result of construction activities, impacts on fisheries diversity and abundance as a result of reduced flow and changes in water quality from controlled and uncontrolled releases from workers’ camp, etc.
  • Surface water quality and quantity assessing the available quantity, quality, characteristics, etc. of the surface water. The description under impacts should include potential discharge of waste water, the effluent to be released, location of such discharge, reduction of surface water due to the activities, treatment available for the polluted water, harmful effects on aquatic systems, etc.
  • Groundwater Hydrology and Quality explaining the existing ground water quality, chemical and physical characteristics of surface waters and groundwater within the area. The assessment of impacts should include water quality and quantity in pre-construction, construction and post construction phase of the project, hydrostatic pressure created due to construction of large reservoir, possibility of soil salinization and water logging, etc.
  • Terrestrial Ecosystems assessing the baseline including genetic diversity, viability of the local, regional and overall population, local and regional representation, etc. while the impacts should describe the total loss of terrestrial ecosystem, total area to be disturbed due to such construction, vegetation cover and types of vegetation to be impacted, percentage loss of vegetation, etc.
  • Erosion and Sedimentation explaining the potential effects on erosion and sedimentation due to the establishment of the hydropower project. It should highlight the changes in topography, geology, characteristics of the soil and erosions flow path; impacts on aquifers, faults and economic resources with the area of the project and etc.
  • Forestry and Agriculture detailing the area of forest and agricultural land, specific species, types of agriculture available and the impacts explaining the specific species, types of agriculture lost and effects of such loss, etc.
  • Seismicity indicating the earthquake prone areas, timeline of such events, size of such events, details of the impact and damage as a result of such event, etc.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emission describing the relevant climate change due to the activities of the hydropower plant. This clause should indicate the greenhouse gases to be emitted, amount of each greenhouse gas to be released, effect of the gases, types of equipment installed to curb the problems, etc.
  • Air Quality describing the quality, percentage of contaminants, etc. in the air and the potential impacts should include the air quality due to the construction activities, emission of dust from quarries, concrete batching plant, etc. It should also include the measures proposed to reduce the air pollution or combat the issues, possible issues related to inhalation, etc.
  • Population Changes providing impacts on population characteristics in the area of influence like change in gender ratio, age groups, family sizes, family structures, population diversity, etc.
  • Land Ownership and Customary Tenure including infringement of land rights, identification of land owners ; legal status of the land; proposed land uses, locational factors influencing the choice of the site; risks related to the land like natural hazards or calamities; etc.
  • Archaeological and cultural heritage may provide description for the locations of cultural heritage to be affected, structures of archaeological relevance, historical monuments and sacred lands in or near the area of project, etc. The impacts should include the potential harm to these monuments, structures, etc.
  • Health providing the detailed information of the level of health in different age groups and gender. It should include the health status, available first aid, any scheme or facility extended by the government in that particular area of project or for a particular ailment, access to the facilities, etc. The impacts should explain the possible harm to the people, health concerns which may arise due to such construction.

To describe further, the clauses assessing the impacts and risks in and around the area of project may include clarifications as to whether any impact or risk is unknown, undetectable or irreversible, and a description of possible risks to people, land, and property. The clause should be indicative of risks involved in the pre-construction and construction period and during the commissioning and decommissioning period.