Public anger grows in Myanmar over junta’s power cuts

Public anger is growing in Myanmar over cuts to electric power ordered by the country’s military junta, with residents now stockpiling firewood and candles in what they call the worst power outage in over a decade.

In a statement Sunday, the junta’s Ministry of Power and Energy predicted 24-hour outages in some parts of the country from March 12 to 18 due to pipeline repairs at the Shwe offshore gas field. No details were immediately available on what areas would be affected.

In Myanmar’s former capital Yangon, however, power is already being cut off twice in every 24-hour period, with homes sometimes left dark for six hours each day, sources in the country say.

“Power is not there all the time, and I have to ask myself every day whether I should use my electric cooker or not,” one Yangon housewife told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“What would happen if the power goes out before the rice is fully cooked?” she asked.

“I’ve now decided to cook with charcoal, but the prices for charcoal and other commodities are rising so quickly now, and there is a huge problem with water supplies. In our neighborhood, a lot of people are going back to using manual water pumps again.”

In Amarapura township in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region, electricity is available for only eight hours each day, according to local sources, with one resident comparing the present situation to earlier periods of military rule.

“We have lived under junta rule in the past, and now we’re living under junta rule again,” the resident said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation by the authorities.

“In between, the people’s government had kept the prices of electricity and petrol to a minimum, and everything was affordable,” the source said, referring to the period of civilian rule under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that came to an end in a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021.

“But now, whether you pay your bills or not, you will have to face these power cuts,” he said. “A decent standard of living is possible only if you have adequate electricity.”

'This is not a good sign'

The city of Monywa in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region has meanwhile suffered frequent power cuts since January, and is now experiencing outages twice a day for three hours at a time, local sources say.

Residents are stockpiling batteries and power inverters — devices used for converting direct current from batteries and fuel cells to alternating current — for use over the next weeks, one woman said.

“This is not a good sign. People feel like they are moving back to the way things were in the past. And there will be more power outages soon when summer comes, and we will suffer even more,” she said.

In southeastern Myanmar’s Mon state, the owner of a garment factory employing around 100 workers said his factory is now powered mainly by a generator.

“It is costing me between 70,000 to 80,000 kyats [U.S. $39.44-45.07] a day to get power,” he said, speaking like RFA’s other sources on condition of anonymity. “The government’s electricity supply comes on for only about six hours a day, but our business runs for 24 hours a day.

“For now, we can use our generator, but if there are going to be 24-hour outages, we won’t be able to run the generator for that long, and all of us are going to suffer,” he said.

Offices in the former capital and commercial center Yangon also cannot function without electricity, and the price of diesel fuel needed to run their generators is going up, said Soe Tun, a businessman based in the city,

“But we never thought of developing other resources like solar energy, so if the power goes out, we will have to rely on the generators,” he said. “We are also running rice mills in Yangon with generators now.”

Myanmar’s capital city Naypyidaw, where the country’s military junta is based, has meanwhile suffered no outages at all following the overthrow of civilian rule, but both junta supporters and opponents alike are facing power cuts in the rest of the country, said Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political analyst in Yangon.

“When the power is cut, communities that support the military, those who do not, and those in between will all face the same hardships. That is obvious,” he said.

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