Taungthaman Lake in Myanmar is being slowly polluted by waste from Mandalay Industrial Zone (Photo by Libby Hogan).
Pollution in Myanmar
Weak or poorly enforced environmental laws have allowed corporations to dump waste and pollutants with impunity in Myanmar. Building on ERI’s history of fighting fossil fuel projects in Myanmar, we continue to advocate for environmental rights and corporate accountability, monitoring pollution issues and potentially dangerous development projects. In the case of projects such as the Mandalay Industrial Zone (MIZ) and the Pauk Tine and Heinda mines, wastewater has damaged ecosystems and livelihoods of communities. ERI provides training and support to local lawyers and community groups on gathering evidence and legal strategies, so that they can seek injunctions before the courts to stop continuing pollution and pursue compensation. We have also pursued strategic litigation, acting as legal counsel for affected communities on complex, large-scale pollution cases with the aim of setting precedents that can be used by other affected communities.
Mandalay Industrial Zone
The MIZ area includes facilities that cause severe pollution such as tanneries, distilleries, sugar factories and battery factories. Since 2008, if not earlier, untreated wastewater has been released from the MIZ into a canal that supplies water for the Nat Yay Kan fishery ponds and feeds into Taungthaman Lake. This pollution has caused a series of large die-offs in the fish populations in Taungthaman Lake. In 2013, Myanmar’s Ministry of Industry supplied a list of 63 factories that were dumping wastewater into surrounding waterways, though the total number may be far higher. Several factories have been fined but none have agreed to stop dumping pollutants, despite the fact that the Mandalay City Development Committee is legally obligated to ensure that they do so. Though required to do so by law, none of the factories in MIZ have publicized an Environmental Management Plan or an Environmental Compliance Certificate.
Heinda Tin Mine
The Heinda mine is tin-ore mining project in Dawei, run by Thai firm Myanmar Pongpipat Company Limited and Myanmar state-owned firm Mining Enterprise No. 2. Since 2008, pollution from the Heinda mine and wastewater from the mine’s overflowing tailing ponds have contaminated the Myaung Pyo creek, the source of the surrounding communities’ water for drinking, domestic use and irrigation. The wastewater also impacts farmland, reportedly damaging the quality of soil. These changes have allegedly caused health problems and disrupted the livelihoods of communities in the area. The communities rely on agriculture, cultivating betel nut, rubber, durian, coconut, vegetables, cashews and bananas to sell. Though the project affects over a dozen villages, one of the most impacted is Myaung Pyo village, located two kilometers from the mining site. Villagers in Myaung Pyo have built an earth barrier and a series of trenches to keep the black wastewater out of their homes.
Pauk Tine Tin Mine
Around 2009, Eastern Mining Company (EMC) signed a contract Mining Enterprise No. 2 (ME2), a Myanmar state-owned firm, to develop a tin mine in Tanintharyi Region. The mining facilities are located near to two tributaries of the Pauk Tine Stream. Since 2009, communities along this stream have seen severe impacts to their health and livelihoods due to environmental damages. Tailing ponds with waste from the mine have frequently flooded and continue to contaminate the tributaries of the Pauk Tine Stream. Flooding has become much more severe and frequent, streambeds lie empty in the dry season, groundwater, wells and streams are no longer usable for irrigation or bathing and livestock are dying off at an increased rate. Since 2014, there have reportedly been no fish or crawfish in the stream. Lead levels in Pauk Tine Stream were 70 times the level recommended by the World Health Organization’s Drinking Water Standards. EMC has yet to carry out a full Environmental Impact Assessment or be required to acquire an Environmental Compliance Certificate, though in 2016, EMC was ordered to stop operations by the Tanintharyi Ministry of Natural Recourses and Environmental Conservation until the company could produced an Environmental Management Plan.
Mandalay Industrial Zone
ERI pushes for appropriate remedies for the communities affected by the MIZ: these include an injunction to stop the pollution, remediation of the polluted waterways and ponds, and monetary compensation. In 2016, ERI organized a forum with communities affected by the MIZ and government stakeholders. Though several factories have since been ordered to close because of their emissions, many have continued to pollute with impunity. We have also called on the Mandalay City Development Committee to give trainings on environmental law and EIA procedures.
Heinda Tin Mine
ERI provides legal advice on two cases brought by frontline communities in the Heinda area: a domestic civil case, led by Dawei Pro Bono Lawyers Network (DPLN) and a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, both filed to hold the Thai developers accountable for their actions and ensure that the company provides remedies to the communities. Since the government has ordered that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be conducted, ERI has worked with DPLN to assist local environmental monitoring groups to become involved in the EIA process. ERI also works with a coalition of Thai NGOs and CSOs calling for transparency and accountability for regional extraterritorial investment.
Pauk Tine Tin Mine
ERI monitors issues around the Pauk Tine mine and is pushing for stronger enforcement of Myanmar’s existing environmental laws. We have also pushed for revisions to laws that will help secure frontline communities’ access to remedies in the case of rights violations. EMC has yet to carry out a full Environmental Impact Assessment or be required to acquire an Environmental Compliance Certificate, though in 2016, EMC was ordered to stop operations by the Tanintharyi Ministry of Natural Recourses and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) until the company could produced an Environmental Management Plan. The contract between EMC and EM2 also requires that EMC use recognized best practices. Because MONREC controls EM2, as a state-owned enterprise, it has the power to take action against EMC in the case of a breach of contract.