Arakan Suffering for China's Pipeline

By Khun Oo Thar | Wednesday | July 20, 2011 | Irrawaddy

“We can't go to school on rainy days as the road condition is not good,” said Aung Aung, a sixth grade student, while walking carefully to avoid the many muddy ponds along the street.

Workers building the Kyaukpru deep Seaport project (Photo:The Irrawaddy)
Holding sandals in hand as they are useless on the squelching surface, Aung Aung and his classmates trundle home wearing faded school uniforms and bags across their shoulders. The school-friends live in New Leikkamaw and have to walk for more than an hour down this sodden stretch to reach their school in Gonchain, near Kyaukpru Township, in Arakan State.

Even though the road has never been sealed with tar it was still even and so considered of good quality for the area. People from nearby villages could use it all year, and around 400 middle and high school students from New and Old Leikkamaw, Malakyun and Pyinshay villages would walk back and forth to lessons everyday.

The road condition, however, has deteriorated ever since a deep seaport project began on Maday Island in Kyaukpru. The smooth surface became churned up by trucks taking building materials to the construction site.

“Every day trucks weighing 20-30 tonnes use this road, and it has been destroyed as it can only handle around five tonnes. As a result, children can't go to school when heavy rain falls,” a villager from Gonchain explained.

He added that the local authorities and company officials have been informed about its dire condition, but no one has yet taken any action.

But it is not just the education of children that has suffered. A farmer from Kyaukpru's Ohndaw Village told The Irrawaddy that farmlands adjacent to the project site became like ponds as more earth gets piled onto them, blocking the flow of water into paddy fields.

Around 30 farmers and their families will find it difficult to support themselves next year as they cannot cultivate rice this season, he said.

Apart from the deep seaport, other construction works currently underway in Kyaukpru include oil and gas reservoirs, a gas refinery and pipelines.

These projects have been implemented by China National Petroleum Corporation, one of the biggest companies in China, other Chinese energy firms as well as South Korea's Daewoo and Hyundai, and domestic companies including Asia World, Myanmar Golden Crown and 7-Star and Petroleum Services Consultancy (PSC).

Meanwhile, Htoo Company owned by Tay Za, one of Burma's wealthiest businessmen, is reported to have been taking care of pipeline transportation. Companies from India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Korea are reportedly involved in the project to extend the pipelines.

A number of local people employed to perform menial work in these projects say that they have been exploited by Chinese supervisors and other Burmese coming from the cities.

“We had to sign for 8,000 kyat [US $10] wages per day but were actually given only 2,500 kyat [$3]. Around 100 employees have been dismissed from their jobs because they complained about it,” said a worker from Kyarkpru's Pikeseik Ward, who collects meagre daily wages helping to build a gas refinery near Gangawdaw Pagoda in town.

Those who were fired from one project are reportedly blacklisted from future employment and have their names on noticeboards at other work sites.

“I have applied for another job five times after being fired by the PSC but none of the companies have accepted me as I am on the blacklist,” said Maung Than.

He said that he was promised a salary of 120,000 kyat [$154] but received only 75,000 kyat [$96] at the end of the month. He therefore reported the matter to the local authorities, but was dismissed and threatened with jail by his boss, a man called Zaw Moe, if he complained again.

According to some employees, they had to spend 20,000 kyat [$26] just to fill out application forms and gain workers' identification cards. Some people say they are seeking legal help to submit their complaints to the International Labour Organization regarding the abuses.

And Kyaukpru residents told The Irrawaddy that many people in Maday and Malar Islands are facing disaster as their villages and farmlands, which they have worked on for generations, have been confiscated and destroyed with minimal compensation.

A villager from Kyauktan Village on Maday Island said that he had five acres of farmland and a garden but everything has been confiscated.

“I no longer have any farmland to cultivate rice. My garden was also confiscated for the project so I am now working as a brick carrier for survival. I am paid 2,000 kyat [$2.5] a day,” he explained.

Kyaukpru is located in the far north of Ramree Island at the base of the Bay of Bengal.

Surrounded by deep sea and possessing a long, pleasant and beautiful coastline with thriving coral reefs, it is a major port in Arakan State.

However, due to the deep seaport and other projects, Kyaukpru's natural beauty has been destroyed and its residents also suffer.

In May, Chinese companies dynamited coral reefs near Maday Island to clear way for a gas pipeline. Local people tried to protest against the action since it would damage the environment and kill marine life, but were not successful.

They again submitted the issue to their state government but no action was taken. Even resident politicians criticized their government for being silent.

Ba Shin, a member of Pyithu Hluttaw [Lower House] and resident of Kyaukpru, told The Irrawaddy that during parliamentary meetings in Naypyidaw, he and other legislators from Arakan State discussed environmental conservation plans relating to projects in Kyaukpru.

He plans to form a community group with local young people in order to protect the area, believing the many factories planned for the future coupled with existing projects means environmental damage will be inevitable.

“Those who have power and are in the administration don't pay attention to environment conservations, that's why I am preparing to start a formal organization by myself to deal with the matter,” said Ba Shin.

U Ohn, one of Burma's most prominent environmentalists and vice-chairman of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association, also pointed out that laws regarding the deep sea port and related projects should be written and enforced systematically.

He said that while stated government policy regarding environmental conservation is undeniably positive, there has been little or no implementation in practice.

“Apart from damage to coral reefs and mangrove forests, the amount of water pollution can be huge because of waste from project sites,” said U Ohn.

The Kyaukpru deep seaport is being constructed mainly for Chinese benefit, and will carry imported crude oil from Africa and the Middle East across the Sino-Burmese border. Currently, Beijing transports crude oil through the treacherous Straits of Malacca, which requires a lot of time and money. The seaport will reduce China's dependence on shipping and its exposure to potential risks.

Furthermore, Beijing signed an agreement with the Burmese government in 2008 to buy natural gas from Arakan offshore rigs for 30 years. Thousands of acres of farmland and many villages along the planned gas pipeline have been confiscated and destroyed.

The Kyaukpru deep seaport project was signed between Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and junta leader Sr-Gen Than Shwe in 2009, while the former was visiting Burma. When Wen Jiabao, China's premier, visited the country in 2010, he opened the gas pipeline project as a symbol of friendship between the two countries.

According to Shwe Gas Movement, a Burmese fossil fuel watchdog based in Thailand, the Burmese government will earn $1.2 billion annually from the project.

From Maday Island, the gas pipeline will go through Ann Township in Arakan State, Magwe and Mandalay divisions and Shan State, stopping at Nanning in China. It will stretch for a total of 2,806 kms and is expected to transport 12 billion cubic-meters of gas and 400,000 barrels of crude oil to China every year.

Burmese state-run media reports that the construction of all projects, most of which started in October 2010, will finish by 2013.

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