Out of Darkness

Myanmar's Quest to (Em)Power its Citizens

Vehicles drive along a road near electricity posts in Thailand's Nonthaburi province April 2, 2013. Reuters

As Myanmar emerges from nearly six decades of economic stagnation and isolation, perhaps no issue is as pressing to its development as the need to upgrade the country’s antiquated power sector. It is believed that the national power grid currently connects less than a third of Myanmar’s 51 million people. More than half the wiring in the country, which is roughly the size of Texas, is estimated to be at least 70 years old. Without adequate power, Myanmar will never see a transition toward a brighter future; without power, advances in education, health care, industry, and regional development, it is simply not possible. 

But electrification is also a political issue. Myanmar’s grid is concentrated primarily in urban areas, leaving those who live in rural environments—approximately 70 percent of the population—largely without grid access. Some rural citizens report paying anywhere from 10 to 20 times what government-subsidized grid power costs,

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