The Karen National Union (KNU), on behalf of the people living in Kawthoolei (Karen traditional homelands), aims to change the way in which decisions are made and benefits are shared in Myanmar (Burma). The KNU aims to have affected communities and regional populations directly participate in, and benefit from, the decisions that impact their lives. The people of Kawthoolei shall have an ownership stake in the development of their communities and regional economies. This is the path to true nation-building – strong communities and regional economies that build a strong nation.
The proposed Bawgata Hydropower Project (BHP), in the KNU’s Nyaunglebin District, is a potential model of the KNU’s aim to place people at the center of decision-making and benefits. Resulting from the KNU’s involvement in the national peace process, the KNU registered Thoolei Co. Ltd. as an entity to enter into business and economic agreements on behalf of KNU and the people of Kawthoolei. On 18 February 2016 Thoolei Co. Ltd. signed an MOU with the Myanmar Government’s Ministry of Electrical Power (MoEP), granting Thoolei Co. Ltd. a concession to study the feasibility of constructing a hydro-electric dam in the Bawgata area. This MOU allows Thoolei Co. Ltd. 24 months to study the feasibility of this proposed project.
The Government of Norway will support the KNU and Thoolei Co. Ltd. to conduct the initial pre-feasibility study of BHP. Norconsult, a consulting company with experience in hydro-electric projects, has been contracted to conduct the independent pre-feasibility study for Thoolei Co. Ltd. This study will address the project’s socialand environmental impact, and the commercial viability. The KNU Economic Committee has stated that it will conduct the pre-feasibility study with the following purpose:
We the KNU will study the feasibility of the BHP to determine if it can be made to benefit the entire Karen community. We will conduct this study in close consultation with all stakeholders. If the study determines the project to be feasible, we will ensure that the design of BHP brings substantial benefits, including revenue and electricity, to the economic and social development of our society. We will work with reputable partners, making this a model-project for economic and social development in ethnic areas of Myanmar.
Big questions remain about the peace process and about achieving the federalism we have struggled for for so many years. We believe this is a time to actively strive to build the lives, communities, and nation that we long for. It is not a time to sit and wait for others to make decisions without our participation. The BHP is an important opportunity for us to actively build the model of how we want to live and, in so doing, be actively involved in answering the big questions that affect our lives.
Hydropower projects typically go through five stages, taking a number of years to complete: prefeasibility study; more in-depth feasibility study; design, raising funds, and tender for construction contracts; construction; and then operation of the hydropower dam. During the process of the prefeasibility study, we anticipate the involvement of the affected communities and CSOs to clarify issues and to give input. At the completion of the prefeasibility study period (8 months duration), the KNU must make a decision as to whether the information gathered warrants proceeding to the feasibility study stage or whether the project should be stopped.
If the decision is made to proceed with the feasibility study (approximately 18 months duration), there will also need to be a decision made at the conclusion of the feasibility study regarding whether to proceed with the project or not. The KNU is committed to directly involve the affected communities in the decisions regarding this proposed project. Further, the KNU is conducting this initial study under the assumption that the local communities must directly benefit from the proposed project, in order to proceed.