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Cablegate: Promoting Solar Energy in Burma

VZCZCXRO8456
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHNH RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHGO #0080/01 0350700
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 040700Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7123
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1705
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0870
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4745
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4430
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7961
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5522
RUEHVI/AMEMBASSY VIENNA 0105
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1330
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1358
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0197
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUCLRFA/USDA WASHDC
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000080

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS, OES:ACOVINGTON
BANGKOK FOR REO:JWALLER
PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON EAGR PREL BM
SUBJECT: PROMOTING SOLAR ENERGY IN BURMA

Ref: Rangoon 35

RANGOON 00000080 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. The Burmese Government permits NGOs to promote
environmental issues, but does little else to protect the
environment. For the past 15 years, local NGO REAM (Renewable
Energy Association of Myanmar) has educated villagers in rural areas
about conservation issues, as well as promoted the use of renewable
energy technology. With support from the UN and international NGOs,
REAM has installed electricity-generating solar panels in more than
30 villages in Magway, Mandalay, and Irrawaddy Divisions, benefiting
approximately 15,000 Burmese. In addition to installing the solar
panels, REAM also focuses on local capacity building, training
villagers on how to use and maintain the solar energy system and
providing opportunities for income generation. End Summary.

Government Views on Solar Energy
-------------------------------

2. (SBU) Despite having a wealth of natural resources and diverse
ecosystems, the Burmese Government does little to protect the
environment (reftel). Instead, the regime depends upon local and
international NGOs working in Burma to educate the people about
conservation and other environmental issues, U Latt of REAM
(Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar) told us. For example, the
GOB often calls upon REAM, the only local NGO promoting renewable
energy, to discuss renewable energy issues with the international
community, U Latt continued. He noted that while the GOB itself
does not promote the environment, it does not interfere with any NGO
efforts on the topic. We have found that environmental programs at
the American Center attract no regime scrutiny, unlike some of our
other programs there.

3. (SBU) According to U Aung Myint, General Secretary of REAM, the
Burmese Government strongly supports solar energy programs, although
it does not provide funding for such projects. In the 1990s, using
a grant from UNDP, the GOB initiated a nation-wide program to
promote the use of solar energy. The GOB installed 46 solar panels
in more than 20 townships. However, the GOB did not maintain them,
and by 1997, most of the solar panels were in complete disarray. In
early 2000, the GOB asked REAM to manage the solar panel project and
pledged to support REAM's future projects. REAM has since repaired
the solar panels, and has empowered the village residents to take an
active role in the maintenance and management of the programs.

Let the Sun Shine
-----------------

4. (SBU) REAM, with assistance from JICA and the UN, has promoted
the use of renewable energy throughout Burma since 1993. U Aung
Myint explained that REAM officials make an average of ten
presentations annually, discussing how Burmese can use hydro, wind,
biomass, and solar power to generate electricity in villages. REAM
does not just target university and school students, but also works
with grassroots and community groups to promote the use of hydro and
solar energy in villages. U Latt noted that more than 60 percent of
people living in villages cannot afford electricity. These
villagers are particularly interested in new, cheaper ways improve
their communities. By using renewable energy technology, villages
can improve their livelihoods and raise the standard of living for
residents, he declared.

5. (SBU) U Aung Myint informed us that REAM, with grants from
various international organizations, has installed solar panels in
more than 30 villages in Irrawaddy, Mandalay, and Magway Divisions,
generating electricity for more than 15,000 people living in the dry
region of Burma. Most villages use the solar energy to operate

RANGOON 00000080 002.2 OF 002


water pumps and provide potable water to residents. Additionally,
the villages use the solar panels to generate income, U Latt noted.
Many village residents, who use rechargeable batteries as their
power sources, must travel to larger townships to recharge them and
pay an average of 500 kyat ($0.40) each time. Villages with solar
panels can now offer recharging services at a lower cost, generating
income for the village fund. The funds that the project generates
can go toward maintenance on the solar panels as well as
improvements to the community itself.

6. (SBU) REAM's solar energy projects are more than just the
installation of solar panels, U Aung Myint emphasized. Each project
is carefully coordinated with the village council, and REAM provides
training to locals on how to maintain and use the solar panels. By
providing the villagers with the tools they need to run the project,
REAM is building local capacity, U Latt declared. The projects are
sustainable, and all the solar panels in the 30 villages remain in
good working order. REAM plans to install additional solar panels
in other needy villages, although it must secure financial grants
from international organizations before it can proceed.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) NGOs working in Burma provide invaluable services to the
people, who continue to suffer from the regime's economic
mismanagement and neglect. We applaud REAM's dual efforts to
promote the use of renewable resources while building capacity at
the local level. It is not enough to provide technology to the
people. By educating them and allowing them to take ownership of
the project, REAM empowers the people to take charge of long-term
community development, thereby reducing their dependence on the
regime. We should encourage other NGOs to take a similar approach.


VILLAROSA

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