Dawei: Lost in Development (video)

For a 17-minute introduction to the difficulties being faced by people living around the Dawei SEZ Development Project, see the video below (with Japanese subtitles).

It includes interviews with villagers who lost jobs, land, or homes.

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We don’t want compensation…

“We take good care of our land. It’s thanks to the land that we can live. We don’t want compensation. Compensation doesn’t last. We can’t pass it on to our children. If we can pass on the land, we have nothing to worry about for our descendants.”

MW staff had an opportunity to speak with a woman from a village affected by road construction being done as part of the Dawei Special Economic Zone Development Project (Dawei SEZ) in Southern Burma. When we asked her how villagers found out about the project, she explained how bulldozers suddenly showed up and started tearing up some of the villagers’ fields.

We will put up more information about expected social and environmental  impacts of the SEZ soon. In the meantime, a photo of villagers engaged in rotational upland rice farming along the road link from Dawei to the Thai border.


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Local groups demand accountability upon Japan’s announcement of official involvement in the Dawei SEZ

On August 4th, local community groups from Dawei (southern Burma) sent a letter to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) after Japan officially announced its involvement in the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development project and related projects.

This is a joint letter submitted by 2 local groups and the Dawei Development Association (DDA), who sent a letter last April to warn Japanese government agencies  of the already existing problems and risks related to the project. Now that the Japanese government has officially joined the Dawei SEZ development project–in spite of the existing problems–the three groups not only raise concerns about expected future problems, but emphasize that Japan is now also responsible for addressing already existing and outstanding environmental and social impacts related to the project. Continue reading

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Japan officially joins in Dawei SEZ; Local groups raise alarm

On July 4th, at the 7th Japan-Mekong Summit held in Tokyo,  Japan, Burma, and Thailand signed a memorandum of Intent (MoI) for development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone. If completed, the Dawei SEZ will be SE Asia’s largest industrial zone (20,451 hectares), and the Japanese government has now pledged to participate. This is also raising hopes of business opportunities among Japan’s corporate sector.

Local groups, however, have been raising concerns about the Dawei SEZ, citing serious environmental, social, and human rights problems. In April this year, local organizations wrote a petition to the Japanese government and JICA calling for Japan to halt its involvement in the Dawei SEZ at this stage. Continue reading

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A Year of Change–An overview of what has happened since Thilawa residents filed their official complaint to JICA

June 2015 marked a year since 3 people affected by the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development Project filed an official complaint and request for investigation into JICA’s compliance with its Environmental and Social Guidelines. The 3 requesters claimed negative impacts to their standard of living due to this Japan-Myanmar joint venture project located just outside of Yangon. This was the first time for JICA’s compliance with its safeguard policy to be put under scrutiny.

How have living standards changed at the resettlement site? Has the standards written in JICA’s Guidelines been maintained? The Guidelines state that living standards of affected people should be improved, or at least restored to pre-project levels. Following is an update of developments through mid-May 2015 and an explanation of remaining challenges. Continue reading

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6,000 residents of Mon State say “No!” to Japanese Coal-fired Power Plant

(translation of Mekong Watch Japanese blog post)mon attire

In response to the rallying cry of “Coal!”, approximately 6,000 people shouted out, “No!”  Holding signs saying “No Coal”, their voices grew increasingly loud.

holding no coal signs

no coal signs 2

One morning in early May, I found myself surrounded by thousands of villagers protesting the planned coal-fire power plant in Inn Din village of Mon State’s Ye Township. Many wore traditional Mon attire, making a strong show of solidarity. Continue reading

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Mekong Watch Comments on JICA Examiner’s report on Thilawa SEZ

In Nov 2014, the JICA Examiner found that JICA was “not in non-compliance” with its safeguard policy, the Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations. The Examiner did, however, make many important recommendations to improve project implementation.

The Examiner’s report contains a summary of the claims made by the Requesters for investigation, JICA’s response to those claims, and the findings of the Examiner.

We are puzzled how the Examiner could find a project that required so many fundamental recommendations to be in compliance with the Guidelines, but nonetheless would like to emphasize the need for sincere and diligent efforts by JICA to remedy the problems affected people are facing.

Mekong Watch submitted a document to JICA’s Examiner as a follow-up to the investigation results in December 2014.  Below are the main points in English. Continue reading

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Thilawa Residents Criticize JICA Examiner’s Report (Dec 2014)

In November last year, a report of the JICA Examiner’s investigation into the Thilawa SEZ was released.  The Examiner concluded that JICA was “not in non-compliance” with its safeguard policies.

Three residents who submitted the official complaint and request for investigation, and who are directly affected by the Thilawa SEZ (having been relocated or facing relocation) disagreed with the conclusion and submitted comments to the Examiner regarding the report in December.

Some of the main points contained in the residents’ comments are as follows:

The residents found that the Examiner failed to sufficiently understand several important areas, though they welcomed his recommendations for ongoing stakeholder consultations. They urge the Examiner to read their comments and urge JICA to take immediate action.

Regarding Land Rights
JICA and the Examiner failed to independently examine land rights issues and simply believed the Myanmar government’s explanation.

Sewage at the Resettlement Site
Because the houses are at a lower level than the road, water flows and collects underneath the houses when it rains. Because toilets are located near the houses, the well water used for drinking is contaminated with bacteria from feces.  (See photo 1 included at the end of the residents’s comments).

Water Quality
A member of the Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG) took water samples from all 7 water pumps and wells installed by the government to the Ministry of Health in Yangon, where it was tested. All samples were found bacteriologically unsafe. Bacteria from human feces was found at levels higher than Ministry of Health standards, and therefore declared to be unfit for human consumption.

Coercion by Authorities
The Examiner concluded that “It is difficult to acknowledge that the Myanmar Government publicly and systematically used force or threats.”  According to an American NGO survey, however, reports that of 29 households interviewed, 93% reported feeling threatened and therefore unable to refuse to move. The Examiner should not take this information lightly.

Comments in their entirety can be seen by downloading the report from the link below:

20141203_Requesters Opinions on JICA Examiners Thilawa Investigation  (700KB)

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“Not in non-compliance.” Result of JICA Examiner’s Investigation into Thilawa SEZ Resettlement Process

On November 4, JICA’s Examiners’ Office released its report on the findings of its first-ever investigation into a complaint filed by project affected people, and we were stunned to the repeated findings that JICA “was not in non-compliance” with its Environmental and Social Guidelines in regard to the Thilawa SEZ resettlement process.

On November 4, a representative from JICA went to Burma to hand 2 official copies (one in Japanese and one in English) to the 3 Burmese who filed the request for investigation. They are evidently welcome to submit comments to JICA regarding the findings, but they were not given a Burmese-language version of the report. JICA’s sensitivity to the needs of local people is proving to be about as good as that of the Burmese government.

The English version of the JICA Examiner’s report can be downloaded from JICA’s website.

The Examiner’s findings are in stark contrast to the report released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which documents impoverishment, malnutrition, fear of retribution, “bacteriologically unsatisfactory” water supply, and other problems. Interestingly, both the JICA Examiner’s investigation and the PHR study were carried out over approximately the same time period.

Though the Examiner found that JICA was “not in non-compliance” in regard to each of the claims submitted in the request for inspection by local people, the Examiner did include a list of recommendations that JICA should implement as problem solving methods.  One of these recommendations is, “[d]ialogues between the parties concerned should be prioritized first in reconciling different stakeholder opinions. It is desirable that JICA respond to questions from stakeholders in the form requested, in order to obtain the trust of the stakeholders. ”

We find some of the recommendations important and hope that JICA will sincerely incorporate these recommendations into their work.  It is somewhat puzzling, however, as to how such recommendations would be necessary for a project that was indeed in full compliance with the Guidelines.

We will follow up soon with more specific comments.

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Study shows Significant drop in Living Standards after Resettlement for Thilawa SEZ

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.

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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)


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