The rather small (8MW) Kawthaung power plant has been one of the first two coal-fired power stations that started operations in Myanmar. Located in Kawthaung township at the southernmost point in Myanmar, it is in a coastal area characterized by idyllic beaches and an archipelago of more than 800 islands. Most of the residents of Kawthaung are small farmers and fisher people and the coastal area is also home to Myanmar’s ‘sea gypsies’ .
The development of the coal power plant close to residential areas has provoked community protests and opposition since the very beginning . Permission to construct the power plant was granted to the Than Phyo Thu Mining Company in January 2010, after securing a contract with the Electric Power Ministry [2,3]. Construction reportedly begun in October of that year . Rumors circulated that the plant was relocated to Kawthaung township from Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan, where previous protests forced the project to stop some years before [2,4]. In March 2012, residents reported that the project was about 95% completed . A first test run was completed in August 2012, and operation started in October 2012 . Coal is supplied from the nearby Bokpyin Township coal mine and water for the operation of the plant is pumped from the Pachan River, located next to the Thai border .
The company promised to provide cheap energy to villagers, while supplying government offices with electricity for free. However, residents’ concerns over related health, livelihoods and environmental impacts outweighed the promised benefits . News articles reported that the power plant is only 50 feet (ca. 15m) away from residential areas and about 450 yards (ca. 411m) from a drinking water reservoir . Fears over the pollution of water sources and health problems from air pollution were voiced not only by locals but also by residents from neighboring Ranong town in Thailand [1,4]. Environmentalists further worried about carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions which can cause acid rain, rise in fine particles and related respiratory tract diseases, and expressed concerns over other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, mercury and arsenic, affecting drinking water, health and the environment [1, see also 5].
Social mobilizations against the power plant emerged since its inception. In 2010, Democratic Party (Myanmar) members, who took a leading role in the protests, met with the company manager to discuss their concerns. Several other meetings between the company and residents followed, however, their concerns were not accordingly addressed . Residents started educational and public awareness campaigns and also wrote a letter to then-President Thein Sein in which they shared their concerns [1,2]. In absence of adequate responses, the villagers started to stage protests . In early 2012, a large town meeting was held in which about 100 people attended . Despite the residents’ concerns, the plant started operations on October 5th, 2012, provoking further protests against the coal power plant .
After the plant became operational, villagers reportedly started to suffer from respiratory problems and skin diseases. Among them were pregnant women [6,7]. While the facility’s manager dismissed that the plant was causing the health problems, leaders of the protest movement said they were investigating the cases . Meanwhile, anti-coal campaigns have turned into a countrywide movement [5,8,9,10]. Several forums were held by civil society groups that urged the government to abandon coal plans over health and environmental concerns, including global warming . In December 2016, 422 civil society organization signed a statement urging the government to abandon both coal and hydropower plans because of their conflictive and environmentally destructive nature . Groups call instead for a growing use of clean and renewable energies such as solar power.