How easy is it to give up a way of life that one is accustomed to and switch to an entirely different livelihood?
Prior to resettlement, residents in the Phase 1 (400 hectare) area of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) were told that they would receive job training and employment after resettlement in order to sustain their livelihoods. JICA’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations require that the standard of living of resettled people be improved, or at least maintained.
Many villagers are already facing poverty, debt, and hunger. While certain trainings were organized, they have clearly not led to sustainable livelihoods.
Below is a list of job trainings given to residents resettled to make way for Phase 1 of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ). One resident at the resettlement site kept this list of trainings in his pocket, and it had obviously been looked at repeatedly (click for English translation: Thilawa Phase 1 Job Training List).
Among the more surprising trainings were piano and singing (2 months), Japanese language course (4 months), English conversation (3 months), and Computer skills (2 months).
Below is another pamphlet from the Ministry of Co-Operatives’ Small Scale Industry Department with general information. It lists various trainings in making cosmetics and edible products such as jams and preserved foods. Click for English Translation Training SmallScaleIndustryDept
The content and length of the trainings, the lack of livelihood support prior to finding new employment, and lack of assistance in finding jobs indicate a lack of will by the responsible authorities to create a sincere and realistic plan to help resettled residents establish new livelihoods.
What were the residents of Phase 1 doing prior to resettlement? Some were primarily rice and vegetable farmers prior to relocation, while most relied on various odd jobs to support themselves and their families. Some worked at a nearby port as wage laborers. Some sold fish and/or vegetables, others provided laundry services. Most of these jobs became unfeasible after relocation. Land was confiscated, and alternative land for farming has not been provided. Monetary compensation for crops has, in many cases, either run out, or been loaned to others who did not receive such compensation and who are now unable to pay back. Transportation costs from the resettlement site to previous jobs is in some cases prohibitive.
It does not require genius to foresee the following:
- If a farmer’s land is taken away, they need an alternative way to make a living.
- When someone is resettled and no longer able to work at an old job, they need a new one.
- When farmers are deprived of land and expected to start new ways of life, they may require job training before being able to enter other job markets. People who are not farmers may also need training to obtain new jobs.
- During the training/transition period, resettled people still need a means to support themselves and their families. Job-training prior to resettlement could also facilitate a smoother transition.
- After training, jobs need to be secured.
The above details have been overlooked by those planning for resettled people’s livelihoods.
Residents that our staff spoke to earlier this year commented that they were discouraged by the various restrictions they found with the courses. Attendance required possession of IDs they did not have, or levels of education they had not attained. Many of the residents from the Phase I area are illiterate or have attended up to only 2-3 years of elementary school. Some trainings were far away and the 1,500 kyat per day transportation assistance was insufficient. Some also felt so exhausted that they could not longer continue the training. Fortunately, the requirement for ID cards has since been resolved, but other issues are still outstanding.
Considering that they were forcibly resettled, the least that project proponents could do is ensure that the residents get off to a good start in re-establishing their livelihoods. It would have been appropriate to consult with residents about their employment to date, the skills they have, what skills they would like to improve upon, and create and implement a plan to make good use of those skills in meaningful employment. More consideration and compassion for project-affected people would do much to improve their lives. Adequate measures to support re-establishing livelihoods would also do wonders for the relationship between affected communities and project proponents, creating a better social environment for the future of the Thilawa SEZ.