Myanmar-Thailand highway branded ‘ecological disaster’

Community and conservation groups in Myanmar have branded a planned highway linking a port project to Thailand an “ecological and social disaster”, saying it would uproot indigenous people from their homes and farms.
Critics said an environmental and social impact assessment for the road project, approved by the Myanmar government in June, failed to adequately specify compensation for loss of land and livelihoods.
“This is a road to an ecological and social disaster (in Myanmar),” said Christy Williams, Myanmar director for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an international conservation group.
The highway is considered strategically important to both nations as it would link Thailand to a deep-sea port and planned Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Dawei, a town on the Myanmar side of an isthmus divided between the two countries.
The industrial complex would serve as a gateway to southeast Asia’s markets, avoiding the need for ships to sail southward through Malacca Straights, the world’s busiest shipping lane.
But Williams said the planned road would pass through a region of “huge ecological importance with rich biodiversity”.
The assessment looked only at the effects on people and the environment within 500m of the road, he added, but the impact will affect a much wider area.
He said WWF had provided “extensive recommendations and solutions” to the Myanmar government and Myandawei Industrial Estate Co Ltd, the Thai firm developing the road and SEZ, but these had “been ignored”.
The impact assessment failed to address many issues brought forward by residents during consultation sessions, said Thant Zin, director of Dawei Development Association, a local civil society group.
“Our main concerns over the project are forced relocation of thousands of local indigenous people, potential industrial pollution… land grabbing and livelihood issues, and human rights violations in project area,” he said.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s environment ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Gunn Bunchandranon, a spokesman for Myandawei Industrial Estate Co Ltd, said the highway’s impact assessment was in line with the laws of both Myanmar and Thai. He said people from affected communities who attended public consultations did not raise any concerns about compensation for loss of land. — Thomson Reuters Foundation

Jared Ferrie