Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, National Water Resources Committee and World Bank’s Support: Bankable or Non-bankable?


On July 2, Bangladesh's The Independent newspaper reported that the World Bank had stopped approving projects for Myanmar as part of international moves to pressure Nay Pyi Taw regarding the issues in Rakhine State. The story quoted Bangladesh Finance Minister AMA Muhith after his meeting with World Bank Group President Mr. Jim Yong Kim in Dhaka.

On July 4, the World Bank's Myanmar Country Office said "We have no plans to halt ongoing projects in Myanmar. We confirm that we will continue to support new projects in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine State."

The first sentence guaranteed the 'safety' of ongoing projects like Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management (AIRBM) Project, which is a flagship and the first project of the National Water Resources Committee (NWRC) chaired by Vice President U Henry Van Thio. The second sentence highlighted the 'priority' of the Bank that where the new projects will be. Obviously, the priority is Rakhine State. However, one has to understand that the priority was not set on the physical land, but on the issue, perspective, and approach to this particular issue and many similar issues such as national reconciliation and achieving sustainable development goals as described in 2030 Agenda.

In this context, one can recall last year big water event hosted by Myanmar as one of the emerging leaders of the region's water arena.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, addressed the Third Asia Pacific Water Summit (3rd APWS) held in Dec 2017. [Ref.: Link]. The State Counsellor said that "The convening of this event (3rd APWS) is most timely as the 72nd United Nations General Assembly recently decided to proclaim the period 2018 to 2028 the International Decade for Action, "Water for Sustainable Development". The aim of this Decade is to emphasize the sustainable development, and integrated management, of water resources, and to strengthen cooperation and partnership at all levels, with a view to promoting the speedy achievement of internationally agreed water-related goals and targets. This event provides an excellent opportunity for sharing our visions, and our views on the future implementation of the 'Water for Sustainable Development' Decade.

I hope that the Summit will also provide a platform where our partners in the Asia and Pacific Region can share their experiences of water-related enterprises and together conceive better ideas for integrated water resources management." The importance of the role of water in sustainable development was mentioned by saying, "It is clear that water is the main driver of sustainable development. The National Water Resources Committee is responsible for two highly important tasks, water-based economy transformation and water-related disaster risks reduction in complete cycle; the National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC) takes care of the relief and resettlement parts of emergency situations during floods and droughts.

The NWRC has three pillars, the Secretariat, the Advisory Group and the Hydro-Informatics Centre (HIC). The Government, Corporate, Society (GCS) partnership offers considerable opportunities for water-based enterprises. We will promote GCS partnership within the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in Myanmar. Our Government continues to provide better security, and to develop the necessary policy and legal framework for water-related investments to flourish in this country. I would like to invite potential investors, both domestic and international, to engage with the NWRC and the NDMC on how best they might participate in and benefit from the water sector enterprises of our country."

After the 'Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP)' has been publicized and called for feedback from all corners of society and the development partners in April 2018. It is not a coincidence that the 3rd APWS outcome, 'Yangon Declaration' came out last year to pave the way for new Water Action Decade and Myanmar was a co-host and leader. Soon after that MSDP and the World Bank's 'Country Partnership Framework for Myanmar' are being finalized in the first half of 2018. Some said that the current MSDP did not mention 'water' or 'IWRM'.

However, if we read the whole MSDP, one will find 'water flavor all over but words'. Please allow me to explain why I say so.

The MSDP has (3) pillars, (5) Goals, (29) Strategies and (250) Processes as shown in the figure below. (Source: The Global New Light of Myanmar)

The role of Water and Integrated Water Resources Management in MSDP can be seen in:
Pillar (1) Peace and Stability. (Peace and stability born out of trust! Trust comes from 'transparency, honesty and proof of fairness in daily life'. Water-based peace projects, such as 'IWRM ground-level-exercise for Peace Building Communities' and 'Water Diplomacy in the sense of trans-regional rivers and lakes water management for water bodies shared by a number of states and regions inside Myanmar' can yield most profound trust among diverse peoples of Myanmar)

Pillar (2) Prosperity and Cooperation (Systematic and continuous implementation of IWRM can contribute to water-based economy which leads to greater GDP with sounder environment and happier populace. Long-lasting partnerships nationally and internationally are mostly done in the water-sector development projects.)

Pillar (3) Humans and Earth (People and planet are made of 'water' and water is an essential part of their existence and interdependency between people and planet. Hence this pillar can be significantly strengthened by 'New Institutional Framework of the Myanmar's water sector')

Goal (1) Peace, National Reconciliation, Security and Good Governance (ေရကိုသားေသာ္ အျခားမထင္သကဲ့သို႕။ Water is a unique element that can unite Myanmar as a whole. Therefore, water and IWRM can serve national reconciliation in a big and concrete way. Good water governance is a foundation of overall good governance. The good water governance is a road to democracy and good governance!)

Goal (2) Economic Stability, Strengthened Macroeconomic Management (For each and every single economic activity, we need water and energy. Without having right water budget, good water management, and effective water governance, economy will not flourish and sustain.)

Goal (3) Job Creation, Private Sector Led Growth (Water sector jobs are green jobs and very important for water-based economy partnered by public and private sectors locally and internationally.)

Goal (4) Human Resources and Social Development for a 21st Century Society (IWRM is the greatest advocate of social inclusiveness. IWRM promotes triple bottom line approach to all water projects. The triple bottom lines are (1) economically viable, (2) environmentally sustainable and (3) socially inclusive. Therefore, we can sense the water also here.)

Goal (5) Natural Resources and the Environment for National Prosperity (Water is part of natural resources as well as environment; however, water affairs should be managed separately, not as a sub-set of natural resources and environment. To achieve 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 'Water' is the main driver and 'IWRM' is the means to achieve the SDGs and MSDP.)

Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) covers 250 assorted plans with State priorities such as that of national reconciliation (water can play a big role), that of better justice system (water integrity in billion dollar projects), and that of reform on the state-owned economic enterprises (The GCS partnership should be included.) In other words, it is a superior plan with a vision of sustainability and balanced development arrangement. We only need to suggest where we can include more visible water wording, such as 'water' and 'IWRM'. In fact, it has yet to create a final master plan or strategic plan to coordinate and hook up the ongoing projects by various projects and sectoral plans in the country.

One caution has been found in the Global New Light of Myanmar article, quote, "Up till now, the union level ministries, the state and regional government departments are mainly putting up proposals for allocation of budgets without submitting development strategies for their states and regions. Moreover, the projects and plans are not clearly considered and defined on the path of implementation whether it is solely by the government, whether it is under Government and Public Private Partnership (PPP) or whether it is mainly under the assistance of Development Partners" (Theint Thaw, Global New Light of Myanmar 24 June 2018).

The State Counsellor has strong commitment in water sector reform, which can be drawn from her conclusion sentence at the 3rd APWS speech: "I would like to underline the crucial role of water security for the overall well being of all humankind and for the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our commitment is clear and straightforward. We can assure you of our cooperation and partnership in Integrated Water Resources Management."

Therefore, the World Bank should consider shaping its present Country Partnership Framework relevant to the final MSDP (which will be done after taking into account of public feedbacks), and putting 'Water' and 'IWRM' in the center of water-based economic and development activities. This may be the answer to the projects those are subject to the recommendation of Development Aid Coordination Unit (DACU) and the World Bank on the very important decision 'Bankable' or "Not-bankable" in the future.

"The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence. "— (Rabindranath Tagore) 

Source: The Global New Light Of Myanmar

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