The Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project is impoverishing the local community at its early stages. This ambitions plan to create a manufacturing industry and business zone covering 2,400 hectares approximately 23km southeast of downtown Yangon is being supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
JICA is providing loans for infrastructure, and on 23 April 2014 signed on to be part of a joint venture to invest in the development of the SEZ.
Mekong Watch has been working with local advocates and affected villagers who have been working hard to make their concerns known both to local authorities, the national government, and JICA. Initially told to evacuate their homes in 14 days or face 30 days in prison, local villagers have many reasons to be unhappy with this project. Though that initial evacuation plan was scrapped, they way their relocation has been ultimately been handled does not meet international standards. An ill-conceived resettlement plan that was finalized and disclosed after they were resettled indicates that the well-being of local people was not high on JICA’s list of priorities nor that of the Burmese government.
Villagers have repeatedly sent letters to both the local authorities responsible for overseeing the project and to JICA. As a Japanese NGO, we have been appalled by JICA’s neglect. In spite of being asked for clarifications on JICA’s position regarding the Thilawa SEZ’s compliance (or lack of) to JICA’s environmental and social guidelines, aside from one meeting in October 2013, JICA has failed to respond to villagers’ letters and requests for meetings. In spite of being given information about the multiple problems being faced by resettled villagers and allegations of violations of JICA’s social and environmental guidelines, JICA has already decided to participate as an investor in the project.
A basic outline of information about this project and Mekong Watch’s concerns are below:
- Purpose: To develop an industrial zone in the suburbs of Yangon.
- Location: 2,400 hectars of Thanlyn and Kyauktan Townships, Yangon District. Phase 1 is an initial 400 hectars, and construction began in 2013. Scheduled to be completed in 2015.
- Project Implementation Agencies: Joint venture between Burmese (51%) and Japanese (49%) investors. The Japanese consortium includes Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation, and JICA. JICA also provided yen loans for infrastructure.
- Primary Social and Environmental Concerns: 1) Involuntary Resettlement; 2) Loss of Livelihood and deteriorating quality of life; 3) Insufficient information disclosure and consultation; 4) Coercion of villagers to sign compensation agreements; 5) Insufficient environmental impact assessment
For more detailed reports, press releases, and opinion pieces about this project, see blog Category “Thilawa.”