Myanmar environmental law could affect Dawei standards

Businesses looking to invest in Dawei are bracing for heightened risk as Myanmar's Environmental Conservation Act is set to take effect next year, a seminar heard yesterday.

Environmental consultant Yan Min Aung said the Act gives the Myanmar Environmental Conservation and Forestry Ministry a mandate to formulate environmental standards including for Dawei.

"However, there is no real legislation yet. [That will come] most likely in 2013. People are hoping for it to come up soon before Dawei is established," he said, adding that the new law will require environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and strategic environmental assessments (SEAs).

SEAs focus on environmental, social and economic factors identified by stakeholders from the government, the private sector and civil society.

Unlike EIAs, which are for relatively short-term projects, SEAs are applied to plans and policies with a long-term perspective and take into account broader scenarios.

The EU's 27 member states conduct 2,000 to 3,000 SEAs each year.

China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines have legal requirements for SEAs, and their use is increasing.

Thailand has formulated guidelines and pilot projects for SEAs but not yet passed any legislation, and a similar situation is found in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

"We could point out that if you develop plans without consultation, it will be the next problem for the government to deal with in public relations," said Yan Min Aung.

He said the Myanmar government has little know-how or resources to help with such assessments, and assistance is needed from the US and Europe as well as civil society.

With no legislation yet in place, companies conducting EIAs for projects in Myanmar now do so in accordance with requirements from their home country.

The entire process takes three or four months.

"When we do an EIA, there is usually no public consultation, or maybe only a few people are consulted. If we conduct an EIA that way for Dawei, you will have a problem later along the line," said Yan Min Aung.

Frida Arounsavath, an environmental and natural resources consultant, said the business sector may have a negative attitude towards public participation.

This could cause problems or even delay the process, particularly if a community engages with powerful people from a company.

At present, Thailand has four pilot projects involving SEAs, in Map Ta Phut; Chiang Rai province; the Yom River basin; and the five southern provinces of Krabi, Phangnga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani and Phuket.

Map Ta Phut is the only project that takes into consideration social and technological aspects, said Prof Wanpen Wirojanagud of Khon Kaen University's environmental engineering department.

She said each province should identify project areas that would need an SEA before legislation is passed.

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Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter