NAYPYITAW — The government has earmarked US$5.75 billion to provide electricity next year to more than 40 villages in the troubled northern Rakhine State townships of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathedaung.
More than 500,000 self-identifying Rohingya Muslims have fled the region since militant attacks on police and army outposts mostly concentrated in Maungdaw triggered an army crackdown that has involved extrajudicial killings, rape, and the burning of Muslim villages, according to refugees in Bangladesh and satellite imagery.
Access to the area is heavily restricted, but a UN Human Rights Office report released on Oct. 11 based on 65 interviews conducted in Bangladesh with individuals and groups stated the security operations began before the militant attacks, with the intent not only to drive out the population but also prevent them from returning to their homes.
Some 30,000 ethnic Arakanese, Mro, Daignet and Hindus were also displaced by militant violence, according to the government, which denies international claims of ethnic cleansing.
The Myanmar Army chief has said the number fleeing to Bangladesh has been “exaggerated” and denies accusations of abuse by its troops.
Deputy director-general of the electricity and energy ministry U Ye Toe Thwin told a press conference on Friday that Rakhine townships Ponnagyun and Sittwe have already been connected to the national power grid.
“We have started work to deliver electricity from Ponnagyun to Rathedaung, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw,” he said. “According to the plan, we’ll be able to provide electricity to Rathedaung in March 2018, and Buthidaung in June 2018, and Maungdaw by the end of 2018.”
Tender has been invited for electrification of 18 villages in Rathedaung, 11 in Buthidaung and 15 in Maungdaw, according to the ministry.
“I had a question about electricity supply [for Rakhine State] from the national grid, and [the electricity ministry] promised to implement it in 2018,” U Aung Thaung Shwe, a Lower House lawmaker in Rakhine State, told The Irrawaddy.
“I heard tender has been invited for it, but I don’t see any work on the ground. I doubt if all the works could be implemented within a year,” he said.
He explained that Maungdaw, Buthitaung and Rathedaung townships used to have electricity 3.5 hr to 5 hr a day, and only around ten percent of the whole Rakhine State has electricity.
Maungdaw has a community-based electricity supply committee that buys electricity from local private suppliers.
In Buthidaung, the government currently provides electricity with two generators. It previously provided electricity for five hours a day. After the outbreak of violence in the area, electricity—at 35 kyats per unit—is being supplied from 6.30 p.m. to 4.30 a.m. daily, according to Buthidaung local Ko Aung.
Only 38 percent of the country’s population is connected to the national grid, leaving 62 percent of the population, most of them in rural areas, without access to government-supplied electricity, deputy electricity minister Dr. Tun Lwin told Parliament in June.
The production cost of electricity by state-owned and private power plants is around 92 kyats per unit, but the price sold to users is 69 kyats on average. The government had to subsidize the gap, which created a loss of 337 billion kyats during the 2016-17 fiscal year, said the deputy minister.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.