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Dawei SEZ destroying local economy, says women’s group

Even though the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is yet to be finalised, the presence of the project is already undermining local agricultural and fishing livelihoods, a new report by the Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU) claims.

TWU said the report – “Our lives–not for sale” – is based on interviews with women from six villages in the main project area, inhabited by over 10,000 people, where initial construction of this multi-billion dollar Thai-Burmese joint venture is underway.

“Women describe how widespread land confiscation, destruction of farmlands and restricted access to the coast are destroying the economic backbone of their communities,” the report said, adding that the industrial zone has particularly serious impacts on women.

The NGO has called for the immediate cancellation of the project.

“The Dawei project has barely begun, but is already destroying the economic backbone of our communities, said TWU representative Su Su Swe. “It must be stopped before it proceeds any further.”

The Dawei SEZ project has been fraught with investor setbacks since its initiation. Contractors Burma’s Max Myanmar Group and the Ital-Thai group, Thailand’s largest construction company, pulled out of the project at an early stage, leaving the Burmese government to seek new contractors.

Japan was invited to stake a claim in the SEZ, which is slated to include numerous factory outlets and a deep-sea port, but Japanese investment has since turned to the Thilawa SEZ, which is situated close to Rangoon.

In October, when Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha paid an official visit to Burma, both governments agreed to revitalise Dawei SEZ by letting Thai firms play a larger role in the much-delayed project.

Officials from Burma and Thailand are scheduled to meet next month, reported to be in Bangkok on 7-9 January, to approve the framework for the initial phase of the delayed project.

TWU said that most local women said they had lost all or part of their income from farms, orchards and coastal shellfish collection, and are now facing food insecurity.

“Over three-quarters of the women [in the survey] had been forced to take their children out of school for financial reasons, including from primary school. Girls are increasingly being sent to work in Thailand to earn money for their families, placing them at risk of trafficking and exploitation,” the report said.

TWU said that sexual harassment from workers at the project site threatens women’s security.

The report also criticised the mass relocations forced on locals as land is confiscated to make way for expanding the project and building roads. It also pointed towards the pollution and environmental problems that were inevitably linked to such a massive industrial zone.