EARTH Thailand

Conservationists call on govt to rethink on Dawei project

The Nation 19 September 2012 | SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE

Thailand's Map Ta Phut industrial estate cannot be considered a good model for Myanmar's Dawei project because it created a lot of industrial pollution in the area, Bangkok-based conservationists said yesterday.

Academic Sulak Sivaraksa said that if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra discusses the project with Myanmar President Thein Sein in the future, she should tell the truth about the negative impacts Map Ta Phut has had over the past three decades.

Thailand and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop an industrial estate and deep seaport in Myanmar’s southern Dawei district in 2008. The entire project is expected to cost US$80 billion (Bt2.47 trillion). Thailand’s Italian-Thai Development Plc has obtained a concession to build a special economic zone covering 250 square kilometres in the area.

The Thai government wants the Dawei project to serve as a major gateway to the Indian Ocean, Europe and Africa via Myanmar. Thein Sein was invited to visit Map Ta Phut during his trip to Thailand in July in order to encourage him to support the Dawei project. It is believed that the Myanmar leader does not have much confidence in the Thai-invested project.

Yingluck’s government signed another MoU on comprehensive development in the Dawei Special Economic Zone and its related project areas in July to boost confidence. It has given the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand the job of exploring all possibilities to help with investment for the project.

However, Veerawat Dheeraprasat, chairperson of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery (FER), warned that despite the financial benefits the project could have negative social and environmental implications in both Myanmar and Thailand. Some 20 villages with a total population of 32,000 in surrounding areas would be affected, he said.

The Dawei industrial zone would house many heavily polluting industries such as oil, gas and petrochemical, Penchom Tang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery, Thailand (EARTH), said.

The industrial zone of Map Ta Phut has already been severely contaminated by industrial pollution, which has for many years brought great suffering to local communities, Penchom said. She went on to say that the Dawei project was even more worrisome because Myanmar had no effective environmental or community rights laws to control such developments.

Veerawat said that there were four or five groups of concerned people in Myanmar, including the 32,000 villagers, people living in Dawei City and Karen ethnic groups, actively opposing the project. The conservationists are calling on both countries to set up the project transparently and provide sufficient information on the impact the project might have on local people.