- POSTED: 27 Sep 2013 00:47
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The Dawei megaproject in southeastern Myanmar will combine a deep sea port with a manufacturing and logistics hub. But critics have said it still has years to go before it will come online and provide the economic benefits its backers have promised.
DAWEI, Myanmar: The Dawei megaproject in southeastern Myanmar will combine a deep sea port with a manufacturing and logistics hub.
But critics have said it still has years to go before it will come online and provide the economic benefits its backers have promised.
The joint venture between the Myanmar and Thai governments marks the first time either side has become involved in a project of this nature.
The Dawei project in the so-called "Kite's Tail" of southeastern Myanmar will be 10 times bigger than Thailand's largest industrial estate.
Thai developers, like Ital Thai and Rojana, with the help from the Yingluck Shinawatra government, hope for it to be a Western seaboard industrial zone they have always coveted.
But it will take time.
Pisit Girdmongkol, an engineer of the ITD Project, said: "There could still be changes after the signing of the framework agreement, because then it will be the responsibility of the Thai and Myanmar governments. They may change the timeframe of the project.
"However, in our initial planning for the Dawei project, each construction phase is about five years long, so overall, the project should take 15 years to complete."
The roads needed to handle the heavy vehicles and materials to make the Dawei dream a reality still have a long way to go.
Engineers have said the project is currently at Phase Zero.
Everything about the completion of this project depends on the road from Thailand. Recent changes to the initial development plans by the Thai side mean Dawei may not turn out as previously envisioned.
Right now, Dawei is a landscape of unspoiled beaches and pristine rainforest.
Lead developer Ital Thai has undertaken a host of corporate social responsibility activities.
These range from purpose-built resettlement villages built by local subcontractors to career training and employment opportunities at Dawei.
They have promised to monitor groundwater and air quality, but none of this may matter to some.
Some of the locals are facing an uncertain future such as where they will live and how they will make their living after the Dawei project displaces them. Many of them do not own homes or farms, so according to the government, they are not entitled to any compensation at all.
While Myanmar is opening up to modern industrial development, very few civil society groups are developing at the same pace.
Dr Ruth Banomyong, head of the Department of International Business, Logistics and Transport at the Thammasat Business School, said: "The companies that are going in, initially, they have this idea that 'we don't have to worry like in Thailand, where there are a lot of NGOs'. Then they start going and they still have to deal with it. That is why the issue is more complicated than they expect."
An NGO (non-governmental organisation) activist, a Dawei local, said it has been Thai colleagues who have helped out in this regard.
Ye Lin Myint, mentor of the Civil Society Strengthening Initiative, said: "Thai companies and the Thai government are not accountable for our people, but the Thai NGOs... are the first ones who informed us about the implication, the negative impact of the megaproject. They are the first one to inform us, they are the first one to educate us about it. They are the one who are supporting us."
Though Dawei is one of the rainiest places in the world, water management is key.
The river will be dammed, used as a reservoir and potentially for hydroelectricity.
In either case, a nearby village surrounding a decades-old monastery will be completely submerged.
The community has hired independent geologists to come up with an alternative plan.
A monk said: "At first, when we learned our village would have to be relocated, we had an alternative plan drawn up to submit it to the government and Ital Thai, but they disregarded our proposal."
So, for now, there are no guarantees what will happen to the people affected by development meant to bring economic benefits to all.