Karen State Residents Urge Govt to Stop Factory's Switch to Coal

By Nyein Nyein 14 November 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — People living near two military-run cement factories in the Karen State capital of Hpa-an are urging the government to stop the larger of them from switching to coal power.

The factory, which can churn out 4,000 tons of cement per day, has been operating in the town of Myaing Kalay for the past two decades under the Myanmar Economic Corporation, a business arm of the military. It is preparing the switch from natural gas to coal later this year; local say coal shipments started arriving a few weeks ago.

In a statement released Saturday, residents from 24 surrounding villages say they object to the switch because it was being done secretively and was harming the environment. They ask the government to stop the company from shipping coal to the site.

“If the coal is to be used to operate the cement factory, it will further damage our environment and our lives, including our health, so we absolutely object to it,” the statement says.

“The locals are concerned because the transported coal is not properly stored and when it rains the runoff from the coal piles seeps into their farms,” said Saw Tha Poe, an environmentalist with the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network.

He said the company should have thoroughly consulted with and informed locals while it was planning the switch. When the company did inform locals about its plans to use coal at the factory back in 2016, he added, they objected.

“We have been living between these two cement factories and have suffered enough health problems from inhaling the cement dust for more than 20 years,” said Daw Soe Soe Htay, a local resident.

“And now they are preparing to use coal, which could make the particle pollution even worse. How will we face the added risks? They don’t care about us, the local people.”

The company has also upset residents by mining a nearby mountain for raw material, and some locals claim that it confiscated parts of their farms back when the two cement factories were being built.

“They have taken every resource the locals own, the lands and the mountain,” said Daw Soe Soe Htay.

When some of them applied to the government in 2015 and 2016 for permission to use the land they say was stolen, the military sued them. The government recently agreed to return some of the plots to the locals.