Housing Conditions at Thilawa SEZ Relocation Site

 

Jan2014 gov-built house

The above is a house built by the Burmese/Myanmar government as housing compensation for families resettled to make way for Phase 1 of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Each family was given a plot of land 25ft x 50ft (approx 7.6m x 15.2m).  The name of the resettlement site is Myaing Thar Yar, but if one looks at a wider view, it is not filled with houses like the above. In Jan 2014, it looked more like this: 

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According to a Japanese member of the Diet who visited the site in May 2014, government-built houses already had cracks in the walls, making their shoddy construction evident (see July 27 post “Is Answering the Phone Enough?”).  Families resettled to Myaing Thar Yar were allowed to choose to have the government build houses for them, or to receive 2.5 million kyat (approx 2,500USD) as compensation and build their own house. Many families preferred to build their own, hence the variety seen in the photo above.

Reasons for choosing to build their own homes varied.  One family who had a very ill family member chose to receive monetary compensation and then built a home with inexpensive materials and use the extra for medical bills.

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Others chose to combine the 2.5 million kyat and other monetary compensation (such as for crops), and/or borrow money to build a larger house. This was a necessary measure, as some families have several children, and a family of 4 would find the government-built house extremely cramped.

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 Prior to building their homes, people to be resettled already foresaw problems. For example, they expected the land upon which the homes were built to be inundated with water during the rainy season.  And it was. The photo below was taken at the end of June, on a day when it had not yet rained.

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Below are photos from July and August 2014. The small structure back left is the toilet. Villagers have also reported that water they pour to clean the toilets has already started to splash back due to the high water table of the land upon which their homes were built.

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The rains are also creating holes in the poorly built road. Residents were also very concerned that the drainage would overflow, as the water level in the drains was already high in June.

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JICA has insisted that the Myanmar Government is doing its best. In a manner of speaking, this could be true. Long-time Burma watchers  are not accustomed to seeing the military regime providing anything other than grief to people they forcibly relocate, so this kind of compensation is not usually seen. This does not mean, however, that what is being offered enables resettled families to have a sustainable livelihood. And a sustainable livelihood is little to ask in exchange for being uprooted from one’s home and livelihood so that large companies can come in to make a profit.

JICA’s social and environmental guidelines require that JICA-supported projects maintain or improve living standards of resettled people.  JICA has so far failed to guarantee this. The failure is seen in the overall situation being faced by resettled residents and their inability to establish livelihoods.

Because of insufficient employment, people who have moved to Myaing Thar Yar are falling into poverty and debt. Finding it impossible to make a living, many families have already left to try their luck elsewhere. In Myaing Thar Yar, there are not enough jobs close enough to make the commute worth the income.

As an agency of a democratic and developed nation, JICA should be doing everything it can to work with the Burmese authorities to point out when the old authoritarian ways–such as coercing villagers to sign compensation agreements they cannot read–are unacceptable. When it is clear that resettled residents are unable to make a livelihood, JICA should also ensure that the residents’ complaints are heard, respected, and addressed. Since relocation started, however, JICA has been negligent to the degree that it outright ignored project affected people’s repeated attempts to contact them with questions about JICA’s safeguard policies and requests for meetings.

In June, villagers found it necessary to file an official complaint for investigation into JICA for non-compliance with its own safeguard policy. This investigation is currently underway.

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