Green Groups: Environmental Impact 'Falsified' at Chinese-Funded Power Plant Approved by Dhaka

A report on the impact on air quality of the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project contains inconsistent data and omissions, raising serious legal questions.

Green Groups: Environmental Impact 'Falsified' at Chinese-Funded Power Plant Approved by Dhaka

A Bangladesh government-cleared environmental impact report on a Chinese-funded coal power plant contains false information and plays down how the project will affect air quality when it becomes fully operational, said a report released Tuesday by three green groups.

The parts of the report about the impact on air quality of the first unit of the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project contain inconsistent data and omissions, raising serious legal questions, said a study by a trio of environmentalist NGOs.

“The air quality modeling is flawed, resulting in predicted pollution levels multiple times lower than would be obtained with appropriate modeling,” said a study of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Chittagong project done by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA), and the Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED).

“There is absolutely no mention of the health impacts of air pollutant emissions under the impact assessment. The impacts of the plant’s mercury emissions are completely omitted.”

The fact that the government cleared this EIA is “an alarming indication of lack of oversight,” the groups said in their joint report. It also shows the disregard for guidelines and standards by those involved in the project, they said.

“It’s evident from the EIA analysis that the Chinese financiers and companies have knowingly allowed such a project which they wouldn’t allow in their own country,” BELA Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said in a press statement.

“Bangladesh authorities are equally responsible for allowing such a project, which raises concern on their oversight and enforcement capacity.”

The plant’s EIA is not publicly available, which also shows the lack of transparency around the project the three groups said. The groups, however, did not say how they managed to obtain a copy of the EIA.

Will ‘take necessary measures’

In response to the three groups’ study, the Bangladesh government said it would look into their findings.

The Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources will share the findings with the Department of Environment, if necessary, said Mohammad Hossain, director general of power at the ministry.

“We will ask the authorities concerned to take necessary measures based on the findings, if needed,” Hossain told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news agency.

An official at the Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project – also called SS Power I – declined to comment.

“I am not in a position to talk to the media,” Ebadat Hossen, chief financial officer of SS Power Plant, told BenarNews.

The Banshkhali S. Alam coal power project is scheduled to begin producing 1,320 MW of power in 2023. Seventy percent of the U.S. $2.49 billion cost of the facility was financed by China, according to information on S. Alam Group’s website.

The plant is being built by Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCOIII), a subsidiary of PowerChina, a Chinese central government enterprise, according to the three groups.

Coal power plants need to be strictly assessed and cleared due to their potential environmental impact, according to Bangladesh’s Environmental Conservation Rules, the groups said.

‘Emissions five times higher than China allows’

EIAs generally use models that project an estimate of the maximum air quality impact when a plant is running as designed, but the Banshkhali EIA shows average estimates, the three environmentalist groups said.

There are similar inconsistencies in the numbers on particle emissions from the project, the groups said.

This “flawed” assessment has been used to justify emissions limits for the plant that are five times higher than China allows for Sulphur dioxide and three times what it allows for oxides of Nitrogen.

In addition, coal-fired power plants are the main source of mercury emissions into the air globally, the three groups noted, but Banshkhali’s EIA has no data whatsoever on these emissions.

The Banshkhali coal power plant has been controversial since March 2016, when 30,000 local residents protested the planned project. Since then, 12 people have been killed in clashes with police, either for protesting the plant’s construction, or while agitating for allegedly unpaid wages.

The approval of the Banshkhali plant reveals systemic problems in the process involved in allowing energy projects, said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA and the author of the study released by the three groups.

“Bangladesh lacks meaningful environmental regulation, as do many other countries hosting China-backed energy projects.”

“Yet the Chinese government and state-owned financiers have failed to put in place environmental and social safeguards that would prevent project developers from exploiting weak or non-existent regulatory oversight.”

Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest coal user, said in April that the fossil fuel would play a less dominant role in its energy production, the Associated Press reported. Even though the country plans to build new coal-fired power plants, it won’t use them on a wide scale, China said.

Bangladesh, too, said something similar.

Nasrul Hamid, Bangladesh’s power minister, said last August that the country would review plans for 26 out of 29 coal-fired power plants.

“Banshkhali was not on the initial list of exempted plants, but has continued construction nonetheless,” the three groups said in a press statement.

In addition, Bangladesh is set to construct another coal-fired power plant. China will bear 75 percent of the $2.06 billion cost of this plant, BenarNews reported last September.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Myanmar’s Youth Increasingly Look for Opportunity Abroad

Many say that there is no future for the young in junta-led Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Youth Increasingly Look for Opportunity Abroad

Myanmar’s youth are increasingly looking to move abroad in hopes of finding better opportunities, with many saying the Feb. 1 military takeover effectively killed off any hope they had in their homeland, youths told RFA.

Sources in the country said that the situation for young people was already difficult, as many with advanced degrees had been unable to find work in their field. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 made the situation even worse as many of the businesses that traditionally hire young people had to shut down.

Now with the military violently cracking down on widespread pro-democracy demonstrations and supporters of a return to a democratically elected government taking up arms, many youth would rather just leave the country and find their fortunes elsewhere.

“I learned IT only during Daw Suu’s government,” an IT professional told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to the ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, currently on trial in a junta court on sedition charges.

“When the good companies came in, we had to work hard to learn what we did not know before, and we were happy to get good jobs. That was why people here didn’t need to go abroad anymore. There was no need to go overseas to study,” she said.

All that changed on Feb. 1, according to the young woman.

“Now that all this has happened, it is likely that everyone will leave. It’s now so crowded at the passport office,” she said.

Another youth who recently graduated IT school said she decided to leave Myanmar because the coup crushed her hope of finding gainful employment or education.

“If this situation continues there will be no job opportunities for IT professionals in the country. Most IT companies are international companies,” she said.

“Local companies are small and are not growing significantly. Most of them support the military. If the foreign companies leave Burma, there’s no way our careers will improve,” she said, using an older name for the country.

The coup has also affected the prospects of young artists.

A filmmaker told RFA it would be impossible to achieve his goals with all the restrictions that he believes will come under junta rule.

“Since 2018, the Myanmar film industry has released really good movies, and it was only getting better since then. We young people expected that we could make good films, but now our dreams are gone,” he said.

“How will you be able to work independently in the future? Everyone loves their country and wants to work in their own country. But if you can’t work in your own country you will have to find a more suitable place,” the filmmaker said.

The father of a young engineer told RFA that the younger generation have lost any sense of direction because there was already a scarcity of jobs in Myanmar, and the situation only got worse with the COVID-19 pandemic and then the coup.

“From 2010 until now, my son had no opportunity to work as an engineer and have a job suited to his degree. He had to work as a clerk with a salary of 200,000 to 300,000 [U.S. $120 to $180] per month,” the engineer’s father said.

“Some graduates have had to work as delivery boys. Others as drivers…This economy is not good. I don’t know what they will do next. There is no future here… That’s why they are now focusing on going abroad because their lives will not be stable here,” he said.

Emigration statistics since the Feb. 1 coup have not been made available. Some Myanmar residents have fled to India or Thailand to avoid military conflict.

But while some youth are trying find ways to leave, others are staying, risking their lives for what they believe is right.

“I have been thinking about how to protect my house from the rain and sun,” a young man, speaking metaphorically about his homeland, told RFA.

“Now is the time to heal our wounds. Now is the time to face the problems of our own country again. It’s time to solve these problems ourselves. That is why I cannot turn my back on my dying homeland,” he said.

Moe Thwe, a member of the pro-democracy youth movement called Generation Wave, told RFA that most youth understand the risks of staying the country and of trying to achieve their goals overseas. She hopes they will one day return.

“This is a situation we can’t avoid. I don’t see it as a negative thing and in some cases I even encourage them to go abroad because we’ll be working with a wider international current, even with international organizations,” said Moe Thwe.

She urged Myanmar youth abroad to support their communities back home by sending money back to their families. Additionally, she called on them to share Myanmar’s story online.

“This will support the revolutionary movement in Myanmar both financially and academically… I see it as an investment for a post-revolution country,” she said.

According to figures from the World Bank, Myanmar’s employment rate for people aged 15-24 hovered around 1.5 percent before the country’s first openly contested elections in 2015. It then spiked to about 4 percent in 2017 before falling to the 1.5 percent level by 2019. Data for 2020 are not yet available.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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