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And then there was light … Sittwe connects to the grid

Residents in Arakan State capital Sittwe this week began enjoying the benefits of a 24-hour supply of electricity.

The western Burmese city – population estimated at around 200,000 – became connected to the national power grid on 2 December, just ahead of the 40th anniversary of Arakan State Day, which falls on 15 December.

Aung Than Tin, the state minister for electricity and industry, said the government had been extending the power grid to towns across Arakan State since the middle of this year.

“In June 2014, Taunggup and Sandoway [Thandwe] became connected to the power grid and then in August it was linked to Ann Township,” he said.

“Electricity was then distributed to Ponnagyun on 1 December and finally to Sittwe where major celebrations are being planned at the Weithali festival grounds for 15 December.”

Previously, Sittwe residents had to buy electricity from private companies at a rate of 500 kyat (US$0.50) per unit; even then, it was limited to only four hours a day.

Connecting to the national grid will qualify Sittwe households for power at the fixed rate of 35 kyat per unit, while industrial or business premises pay 75 kyat per unit.

Minister Aung Than Tin said the Arakan State government is currently developing plans for industrial zones in Sittwe and Ponnagyun to support small-scale industries, and is aiming to bring electricity to all towns in the region within the 2015-16 fiscal year and to all villages in the state by 2030.

Aung Myint Kyaw, an MP in the Arakan regional parliament, praised the development in electricity.

“I think this is a victory for the local population,” he said. “As a citizen and MP, I welcome this and would like to say that I am completely delighted.”

He added that caution should still be exercised as power cuts may continue to be frequent.

However, he said, with a steady supply of electricity, there will be greater opportunities for developing the region’s economy, education, health, transportation, home businesses and small industries, though he noted it may take time.

“I think it may take a while. It would be impossible that everything progresses immediately because we now have electricity,” he said. “Technologically, we are coming from far behind.”

Burma’s President Thein Sein is scheduled to attend the celebrations in Sittwe on 15 December.

According to government statistics, there are 540,065 families – more than three million people – living in 3,770 villages and 133 wards in Arakan state’s five districts and three sub-townships. Arakan is also commonly known as Rakhine State.

In September 2013, residents of Arakanese town Kyaukphyu and 21 surrounding villages began enjoying the benefits of 24-hour electricity when small-scale gas turbines began turning at the Shwe Gas pipeline terminal.