The Thilawa Social Development Group, a group of villagers who have been relocated or who are facing relocation to make way for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), held a press conference in Yangon on April 27th. They expressed their dismay at JICA making its decision to provide private sector investment financing before sufficiently investigating possible violations of JICA social and environmental guidelines, much less even responding to the villagers’ letters. Concerns villagers have been wanting to discuss with JICA include:
- Coerced signing of compensation agreements
- Loss of livelihood after relocation
- No replacement farmland
- Deteriorating living standards due to inadequate compensation
- Access to education and health services
- Poor water quality
The villagers’ press release is as follows (Click here for a Japanese translation日本語版はこちら）. This is an English translation of the Burmese original:
For Immediate Release
Thilawa Social Development Group
April 27, 2014
JAPANESE AGENCY FAILS TO MEET VILLAGERS OVER SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH THILAWA SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
Yangon, Myanmar –
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has failed to meet with villagers from the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) near Yangon, said representatives of the the Thilawa Social Development Group in a press conference today.
Representatives of the group delivered a letter to JICA on April 7 requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns over serious problems in implementing the project that are in violation of JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations. The villagers’ April 7 letter also requested JICA to meet with them before making its decision whether to invest in Phase I of the project or not. But on April 23, JICA decided to invest around 500 million yen (5 billion kyat). This amounts to 10% of Phase I of the Thilawa SEZ project, a joint venture between Japanese and Myanmar companies, the Myanmar government and JICA.
“We wrote to JICA to request a meeting, but they didn’t respond,” said U Mya Hlaing, leader of the Thilawa Social Development Group. “The people in Thilawa continue to suffer, but the Myanmar government isn’t listening and JICA isn’t listening. They don’t seem to care that the project is violating their own guidelines.”
JICA’s involvement in the project requires it to be implemented according to the agency’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations. So far, the Myanmar government has failed to provide adequate compensation or replacement land for farmers who have been farming, living, and paying tax on the land for years. Many villagers relocated under Phase I of the project have lost their livelihoods or have seen a decrease in their income after moving to the relocation site in Myaing Thar Yar.
Furthermore, villagers have not received information about the project in an appropriate manner or been allowed to meaningfully participate in the development of the Resettlement Action Plan and Environmental Impact Assessment, as required under JICA’s Guidelines. Some villagers were also forced to sign compensation agreements through direct threats and intimidation.
Representatives of the Thilawa villagers met with JICA officials on October 15, 2013 to raise serious concerns about the project and express their demands. Follow-up letters, including this month’s request for another meeting, were ignored. Since then, relocated villagers have continued to suffer under a decreased standard of living due to loss of income, problems with access to education and health services, and poor water quality.
The Thilawa Social Development Group is concerned that Phase II of the SEZ project will cause similar problems for the livelihoods and wellbeing of an additional 4,500 villagers. The proposed international port project in Thilawa is also likely to disturb the fishing activities and result in a serious loss of income for the Bay Pauk fisher community. Neither of these two communities have been adequately consulted about each project.