Human

Myanmar, for instance

 By Stefano Carbonara

I head towards the gate for the domestic flight from Yangon, the economic capital, to Nay Pyi Taw, the political capital of Myanmar, and I think about the great commitment to a socio-economic transformation that the country has taken on after decades of isolation in the heart of South East Asia…

It is an epochal change, which, even if complex, you can perceive every day. A year ago, Yangon airport was little more than a small family-run business. Now it is booming, with highly modern terminals which contrast with the entrenched and characteristic Burmese culture. Coloured rows of local men dressed in their traditional longyi, a long length of fabric that they wrap around themselves from the waist to the feet, a bit like a skirt, and women on whose faces you can see thanaka, a peculiar cosmetic powder, as they mingle with foreigners climbing the stairs of the twin-engine plane.

Reaching Magway

The flight covers about 340 km northward between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw. The monsoon has just finished and from the plane you can see the green paddy fields that border the high hills that wind along the north-south split of the country. The orography of Myanmar is similar to that of Italy, bordered by the sea of its western side, the country is marked longitudinally by reliefs and latitudinally to the north is bordered by large fortifications that lead to the Himalayan chain.
Arriving in Nay Pyi Taw, a four-hour offroad drive takes me towards Magway where Eni Myanmar operates an onshore exploration block in the heart of Myanmar, known as the dry zone, one of the poorest areas of the country characterised by contrasting natural elements in which an ancient agricultural community struggles for survival.

The journey to Magway

The villages are built in bamboo, the ploughs are pulled by animals, and the farmers work immersed up to their knees in the paddy; all this tells me we are in Magway, where the river Irrawaddy, the source of life and livelihood, rewards us with a suggestive pink and light blue sunset.
From Magway we head about 20 km south to the base camp, inside our operated block, which is called RSF-5. Captivated by the journey, I retrace the various phases of the seismic survey (520 km2), a challenging project due to the environmental context, the size of the area and presence in the territory. The Base Camp hosts some 600 people and 165 vehicles, located in an area devoid of any kind of utilities or pre-existing structures.

A matter of reputation

In this remote area, the land is the only resource for the local population. Life revolves around the seasons, crops, water sources and small businesses. The area’s previous experience, largely involving mining operations, left only negative memories. Consequently, a level of mistrust regarding our project was only to be expected. We were very aware that key to the execution and completion of our activities was the relationship with the stakeholders. The Danish Institute for the Human Rights (DIHR), an independent governmental institution that promotes and protects human rights and equal treatment in Denmark and around the world, who we asked to conduct an impact assessment on human rights before starting our activities, identified access to the areas to be subject to operations as one of the main critical aspects, both from an operational and – reputational point of view.
I think back to how our understanding of the local culture, the territory, the expectations of the local people and their daily life, has grown over time, to the point where we now have a consummate awareness of all the crops present in the seismic survey: peanuts, white, red and black sesame, chickpeas and beans, and remembering both prices and productivity!

The base camp

The preparation of an ad hoc procedure for the management of access to the areas and its sharing with local authorities, required long and patient work, involving meetings, calculations, revisions and public consultations in the villages.
In this highly complex initial phase, the extensive presence on the ground of competent and well-trained Burmese colleagues was fundamental, as they ensured direct contact and were a point of reference for the management of claims and complaints from the community (Grievance Mechanism). The so-called “Permit-man” team consisted of 20 Eni people, 20 from the seismic sub-contractor and 17 from the state company. “Permitting” is the process that establishes how to approach the local communities temporarily involved in the project, due to the need to access their properties. It consists of the registration of the interested parties, requests for access permission, the performance of operations, the calculation of damages and subsequent compensation. The “Permit-Man” team is responsible for each of these phases and interface with the inhabitants in line with to the Land Management procedures established by Eni Myanmar.

A fly over the Myanmar Base Camp

Consultations

Thanks to our widespread presence, people began to understand that we would not damage their fields, that we have a well-organised system and that anyone with a grievance could contact our “Permitting-man”, who would move within- 12 hours to meet the person and find a solution.
Although the local staff had never worked for Eni, the team entered fully into the spirit of the project, interpreting our sustainability model in the best possible way. The sense of belonging that comes from wearing a uniform with the six-legged dog logo, an awareness that they were contributing to a possible energy development in their country, made them a team that worked with energy and enthusiasm. Cooperation and empathy with local communities facilitated the gradual improvement of the situation after just a few months of working together.

Permitting activities and the visit of ministers

We also tried to meet the expectations of the communities, through the implementation of small social projects such as the fencing of a school, building roads to reach the pagoda, the repair of a water well, the electrification of an entire village, setting up a library and supplying more than 20,000 pipes for the channelling of water. These simple initiatives have given important benefits to the villages, confirming Eni Myanmar’s social commitment in the area and emphasising an approach based on humanity, trust, listening, passion and professionalism.
While other operators, in the country in conditions similar to ours, abandoned or downsized the layout of seismic acquisition, in late January 2018 Eni Myanmar successfully completed one of the largest land surveys ever acquired on site. To mark the occasion, a large government delegation, led by the Minister of Energy and Electricity and the Chief Minister of Magway, visited the Eni Base Camp, and, thanks to the application of international standards of HSE and sustainability, defined our project as an unprecedented model in the country.

The government delegation led by the Minister of Energy and Electricity and the Chief Minister of Magway visits Eni Base Camp

DIHR

At the end of the project, in February 2018, the DIHR returned to visit the area to assess the impact of operations in the territory and carry out interviews with workers, the villages involved, NGOs and local organisations and authorities (Community Based Organisations). The survey showed that there was a general and highly positive consensus from the stakeholders for the work carried out on the field by Eni Myanmar. In particular, for the rigorous and systematic approach adopted by Eni, which is reproducible and reliable, and has enabled us to establish a relationship of trust with the communities, while also respecting human rights and people’s work.

DIHR returns to visit the area to assess the impact of operations on the territory

I arrived at the base camp, or what remains of it, as the de-mobilization activities were under way. The faces of friends and colleagues were relaxed reflected their pride in what has been achieved over this long year. We shared intense memories and experienced unforgettable moments, emotions that will stay with us forever.
We leave the field in the certainty of having given it our all and in the hope of having left, in some small way, an example to follow for the entire energy industry.

READ MORE: The land of white elephants by Roberto Iadicicco

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about the author
Stefano Carbonara
Eni Myanmar Managing Director