In Idyllic Delta Locale, Locals Hope Proposed Power Plant Stays Grounded

By Lawi Weng 14 December 2015

NGAPUDAW TOWNSHIP, Irrawaddy Division — Eight hours drive from Rangoon, the idyllic coastal site of Nga Yoke Kaung in Irrawaddy Division boasts fertile fishing grounds and pristine stretches of sand.

But residents of the sub-township, located in the delta’s Ngapudaw Township, are not without concerns, including the fate of a planned coal-fired power plant which has faced strident local opposition.

The Irrawaddy recently visited Nga Yoke Kaung Island, staying at a coconut farm in Kywe Kyaing, a small fishing village where the locals offered free accommodation and ample supplies of cheap seafood.

“Most people here go to sea almost every day for fishing,” said Tun Tun, a 35-year-old local. “We first go to observe areas where many fish usually gather together. Then, if we see hundreds of them all together, we use fishing nets to catch them.”

The fishermen here often net sizeable hauls. On Sunday, one group caught some 8,000 fish—a number locals’ said more than doubled regular catches.

“They sold half of the catch to fish buyers, but the buyers’ could not handle the other half. The fishermen then brought the rest of the fish to their houses, where they cleaned them, mixed them with salt and stored them, for two days, to dry before sending them to market,” Tun Tun said.

One viss (approximately 1.6 kilograms) of dried fish typically sells for 6,500 kyat, while the price for fresh fish is 1,000 kyat per viss.

The Irrawaddy visited another house on Sunday where a group of about 30 people were working to clean, salt and store around 4,000 freshly caught fish. Locals work through piles of fish dumped just outside their houses, discarding the innards and heads and keeping the rest.

One female worker said she received 50 kyat for each fish she gutted, cleaned and salted. She usually got through 100 fish per session, with a workday starting at 2 am.

“We can get around 5,000 kyat for today,” said another woman on Sunday. “It is very hard work, I did not have enough sleep.”

There are around 300 houses in the village, a middle school and a small hospital. Those who attend high school have to catch a boat to the town of Nga Yoke Kaung.

“It is a good place to stay,” said Htein Aung Kyaw, a local boat operator. “We have a good environment here. We eat all natural things. But the village does not have a big hospital. In case of emergencies, we have to travel by boat to get to the town. This is one of our main problems.”

Htein Aung Kyaw also feared the village’s beautiful natural surrounds would be irreparably damaged if the mooted power plant was built in the area.

Preliminary work on the proposed 300-megawatt power plant in Nga Yoke Kaung sub-township has reportedly stalled amid local opposition. Local newspaper 7 Days reported in July that field research being carried out by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation and local conglomerate A1 Group of Companies had been halted due to local resistance. Its future remains unclear.

According to the Dawei Development Association, more than a dozen coal-fired power plants are currently planned nationwide.

“We are worried that they will build the power plant here,” Htein Aung Kyaw said. “But this issue is a little quiet now. Hopefully they will not implement their plan. For our villagers, we will not let them build it here. We are happy with what we have here.”