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ADB: Electricity Access Crucial for Burma's Development

Burma's President Thein Sein (C) inspects Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) Kawasaki Thermal Power Plant in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, April 22, 2012.
The Asian Development Bank says urgent efforts are needed to help improve access to electricity in Burma, where only a quarter of the population has power.

The Manila-based bank says whole areas of the country will be "severely hampered" in their efforts to advance economically if the electricity shortage is not addressed.

Burma's per capita electricity consumption is among the lowest in Asia. The ADB estimates that only one in four people have access to electric power. In some rural areas, the rate is as low as 16 percent.

In its initial assessment of Burma's energy sector, the ADB says the country has a wealth of possibilities for power generation, including oil and gas exploration and other more renewable sources.

But it says a lack of financial resources has hampered its ability to make the energy reforms needed to help reduce poverty. The under-developed country is recovering from decades of economic and political isolation under its former authoritarian military leaders.

But since a new government took power last year, international investors have flocked to the Southeast Asian country. Fueled by interest in Burma's untapped reserves of oil and gas, the International Monetary Fund says direct foreign investment in the country will rise 40 percent to a record $3.99 billion this year.

The ADB says international investment should focus on several medium to long-term projects, including rehabilitating the country's dilapidated power grid, as well as developing a comprehensive plan for hydropower and expanding use of gas power plants.

It also warned that international investment must also take into account issues of sustainability and protection of the environment.