Burma

Govt Vows Action After Myanmar Villagers Demand Fertilizer Factory’s Closure Over Pollution

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 26 January 2021

YANGON—The chief minister of Yangon Region on Tuesday promised villagers that he would assign two ministers to inspect a fertilizer factory whose closure has been demanded by local residents who say it exposes them to chemical pollutants.

Residents of two villages in Yangon’s Twante Township have raised a stink about foul odors from the fertilizer and insecticide factory and want to see it closed.

While meeting villagers at the entrance gate of the Yangon regional government office on Tuesday morning, Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein promised them he would inspect the factory and conditions in the village on Thursday after his inspection teams led by two ministers conducted investigations on Wednesday, said Kan Pat Yoe Village resident Ko Kyaw Zaya.

“We are demanding the closure of the factory” said Ko Kyaw Zaya.

About 3,000 residents of the two villages have suffered from the foul smell and fear that some farms and the village’s pond have been damaged by chemical dust from the factory, according to the villagers.

Since 2019, Myanmar Shwe Nagar Agriculture Group Co. Ltd has run the fertilizer production operation in its factory located on the bank of Twante Canal near Kan Pat Yoe and Htan Ta Pin villages in Twante Township.

The company is producing fertilizers and insecticides for agricultural use in Myanmar.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications (MOTC) has rented 27.77 acres of land to the company for the storage of fertilizers and materials used in the agriculture sector until August 2022.

But the company has been using the site not only for storage but also for fertilizer production, breaching the land-rental contract with the MOTC.

Also, the factory has failed to submit an Environmental Compliance Certificate issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation proving that its business does not impact surrounding areas, the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems (DWRIR) under the MOTC said in an order issued on Jan. 15.

The DWRIR has ordered the company to stop its factory’s operations after finding that the residents nearby have been affected by the foul smell of chemical dust. Betel farms and the pond used for drinking water were also damaged by chemical dust from the factory.

Local residents from Kan Pat Yoe village told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the factory continued its operations for days after Jan. 15 despite the ban.

Officials of Myanmar Shwe Nagar Agriculture Company couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

Ko Kyaw Zaya, a resident of Kan Pat Yoe Village, said that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions have been suffering from health issues due to the foul smell of chemical dust from the factory since 2019.

In December 2020, township health officials also urged the villagers to stop using water from the village’s pond because the color of the water in the pond had changed and lotus leaves in the pond had been damaged, he added.

Currently some villagers depend on donors for drinking water while others depend on their own well for the water.

“We want the factory to be closed permanently because the company continued to run their operation stealthily amid the ban. They don’t take care about authorities on the township level,” said Ko Kyaw Zaya, a resident of Kan Pat Yoe Village.

He added: “We want our regional government to handle this issue effectively because it can have an impact on the health of future generations.”

After finding that the factory is running illegally and the company is breaching the rules of its contract, Dr. Kyaw Zin Oo, the township’s lawmaker in the Yangon parliament, directly reported the matter to the chief minister of Yangon Region on Dec. 31.

But no action has yet been taken, according to Ko Ye Win Htut, secretary of the People’s Party (Yangon) who is helping the villagers.

“We want our government to invite only those investments which come with responsibility and accountability. If not, our local residents will suffer side-effects from those investments which do not respect our laws,” said Ko Ye Win Htut.

Lawmaker Dr. Kyaw Zin Oo told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the factory should face action by the government for failing to comply with the government’s rules.

U Aung Myo Khiaing, director of the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of Rivers (Yangon), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they will take action against the factory if it continues failing to follow instructions.

However, he didn’t say what kinds of steps would be taken.

In response to the villagers’ accusations, factory manager Ko Naing Lin told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the facility had completely stopped producing fertilizer on Jan. 15, though it was still being used as a storage facility.

To keep the factory’s operations going, Ko Naing Lin said the company would try to meet all requirements and instructions of the government and try not to  have any impact on the environment and villagers.

“We will try to follow the laws. We will try to be a factory that can contribute to the environment,” Ko Naing Lin said.

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