Junta under pressure to restore access to electricity in Myanmar — Radio Free Asia


Scheduled cuts to Myanmar’s fragile power supply over the past week to reduce pressure on the country’s strained power grid have failed to address severe shortages, sources said on Friday, as activists warned that the junta’s failure to restore electricity distribution could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

More than 13 months after the military seized power in a February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar is mired in political and economic turmoil as life becomes increasingly difficult for the people ordinary people due to the rising cost of food, as well as regular food and water shortages.

Even in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, home to around 7 million people, sources say power is cut twice in a 24-hour period, with homes sometimes left in darkness for six hours a day. . Only the capital Naypyidaw, where the country’s military junta is based, has enjoyed uninterrupted electricity since the overthrow of civilian rule.

Earlier this month, the junta announced it had planned further supply cuts from March 12-18, blaming rising gas prices and attacks on infrastructure by anti-junta paramilitary groups in People’s Defense Forces (PDF).

However, sources across the country told RFA’s Myanmar service that the cut had done little to improve their access to power and expressed frustration at the difficulties they face in their daily lives under military rule.

A resident of Thingangyun township in Yangon, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said power outages since early March had forced people to turn to charcoal stoves for cooking and wait for the electricity comes back to be able to pump water.

He said that during the week of scheduled blackouts, “it was no different.”

“The number of hours we have electricity is much lower than the number of hours we have blackouts,” the resident said.

“When the power comes back, it’s only for a short time. We can’t even use our rice cooker to cook rice. Now I have to buy bags of charcoal for cooking.

Other sources in Yangon told RFA that when the power is turned on, so many people start drawing water that the pumps burn out due to overheating. Also, electricity often only comes on for a few minutes at a time, they said, and it can take people hours to fill containers with the water they need for their homes. Meanwhile, massive lines are forming daily in areas of the city where water is delivered by tanker trucks.

A villager in Mon state, who declined to be named, told RFA that the area experiences daily power cuts and people are increasingly forced to fetch water from wells, as they did before access to electricity.

“Our water supplies need to be replenished as soon as there is electricity,” she said. “If you forget to refuel, you’re in big trouble.”

However, although she can get the water she needs from the village well, she said small businesses in the area that depend on electricity to operate have few alternatives and have to shut down when the power is out. cut.

Businesses forced to close

A garment factory owner in Mon who employs about 100 workers said he was forced to rely on generators to run his business, which can cost up to 80,000 kyats ($45) a day.

Daw Myo Myo Aye, president of the United Confederation of Trade Unions (STUM), said some garment factories closed completely in March due to power outages.

“Electricity supply was always insufficient in the past, but now it’s getting worse and worse,” she says.

“Fuel prices are much higher than before, so profits are falling… All of this is on top of political instability and an economic downturn, so owners may be considering closing their businesses.”

As businesses close due to power outages, the country has seen rising unemployment rates, a labor activist said.

“We’ve seen all jobs that depend on electricity go down and unemployment is up,” he said.

The activist said more than 600,000 people worked in the industrial areas of Shwepyithar and Hlaingtharya on the outskirts of Yangon, but the number had halved due to the coronavirus pandemic and political unrest following the coup of state.

“And now the factories are reducing their activities because of the lack of electricity,” he said.

“For business owners, it’s not possible to run generators for their operations because the price of fuel is too high. So if the factories close, at least 200,000 more workers will be made redundant in the industrial zones.

Residents of Yangon’s North Dagon township line up for a tanker truck to deliver water, March 9, 2022. Credit: Citizen Journalist

A reliable power supply “impossible”

An electrical engineer named Zaw Yan told RFA that Myanmar will never have a reliable power supply as long as the junta is in charge.

“It is impossible to increase the production of our hydroelectric plants. Factory generators require spare parts that have to be ordered from overseas, and it is difficult to get them in the current situation,” Zaw Yan said.

“In addition, many employees of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy participate in the [anti-junta] Movement of civil disobedience,” he said.

“As a result, it is impossible for the country’s electricity grid to operate at full capacity and provide quality supply to the population. [under military rule].”

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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