This afternoon in Yangon, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Mekong Watch and the Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG) released a PHR report detailing the conditions of people living in the resettlement site after displacement for the Thilawa SEZ. The study shows that many were living in conditions worse than prior to resettlement. Poor sanitation and water quality, impoverishment, food security, and decreased access to medical care are among the findings.
Photos (Mekong Watch): Flooding in the resettlement site in early November 2014, a day after heavy rain.
“A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone” documents the conditions of 29 households in the resettlement site. While 68 households were resettled, 31 households moved out of the resettlement site within the first 9 months. Of the remaining 37 households, 29 were interviewed. Site visits and interviews with residents and other key informants were conducted over a period spanning Aug-Oct 2014.
Some of the findings are as follows:
- 93% of interviewed households felt threatened or were afraid of consequences if they refused to resettle.
- Copies of signed compensation agreements were not given to all residents until August 2014, more than 8 months after resettlement and 2 months after 3 residents filed an official complaint with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for investigation into Environmental and Social Guideline violations.
- Many residents were not literate enough to read the agreement (30% are of Indian descent and unable to read Burmese).
- While 4 families’ income increased, 24 saw a decrease in income (9 lost all income).
- While 79.3% of the interviewed households were above the UNDP poverty line for Burma a year before displacement, only 31% were above the poverty line at the time of this study.
- All 7 water sources are closer than 30 meters to a latrine. All were tested and found to be “bacteriologically unsatisfactory,” contaminated with fecal coliforms at levels deemed unfit for human consumption by the Ministry of Health.
- 20 of 29 respondents scored 3 or higher on Patient Health Questionnaire-2, indicating a high likelihood of depression or anxiety.
- 27.6% of households reported an increase in household hunger after displacement, and 13.6% of children surveyed suffered from mild malnutrition.
- Since displacement, 93% of interviewed households reported that their overall situation was worse than prior to displacement.
PHR’s director of programs, Widney Brown said, “The Thilawa project exemplifies how devastating forced displacement can be on local communities when governments completely disregard human rights laws for the sake of a business development. The Burmese and Japanese governments should work to improve the living conditions for those displaced by this misguided venture, and ensure that this disaster is not repeated when hundreds of other families are relocated for future development projects.”
Phase 1 of the Thilawa SEZ displaced 68 households, but the upcoming Phase 2 is expected to require resettlement of another 846 households. It is crucial that the Burmese government, JICA, and investors learn from the mistakes in Phase 1 and implement remedial measures immediately. If they do not, the failures of Phase 1 are only a hint of the tragedies awaiting a resettlement process of 12 times the scale for Phase 2.
A copy of PHR’s report can be downloaded here: A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (700KB)