Bangkok Post 24 August 2012
By Achara Ashayagachat
The Thai government and contractor Italian-Thai Development should revise their plan for the Dawei port and industrial complex in Myanmar to reflect the impact on residents of both countries, say academics.
The Dawei megaproject, they say, will affect people in Myanmar as well as Thai people along the route of a 328-kilometre highway to Dawei from the Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut industrial zones via Kanchanaburi province.
The Council of State, the government's legal adviser, is still studying a proposed bill to create a special economic zone in Kanchanaburi, said Pojanee Artarotpinyo, director of the Spatial Development Planning and Strategy Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB).
As well, she said, the Finance Ministry is looking at ways to help ease the financial burden ITD is facing with the Dawei venture.
The SET-listed contractor has been struggling to raise funds for the project amid concerns that Myanmar's new reformist government appears less enthusiastic about Dawei than the former military junta that awarded the concession to ITD.
"Whether the Thai company is involved or not, (deep sea port) development will be created anyway, so we should help support the Thai venture," said Ms Pojanee.
"And since the government has already pledged strong support to the project, all agencies are now coordinating closely with their Myanmar counterparts to concretise and finalise the project."
She made the comments on Friday at a seminar on "Thai-Myanmar relations: From Map Ta Phut to Dawei" at Mahidol University's Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies. It was the second time Thai civil society groups had gathered to discuss the issue; the last time was in late July in Chiang Mai. No business representatives attended either session.
Issues that the two governments had to renegotiate included project sites, features or characteristics, and financing methods, said Ms Pojanee.
In any case, she added, the promoters of Dawei should consider all the lessons learned from the Eastern Seaboard development in Thailand, including environmental and health problems.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will visit Myanmar again next month to follow up progress on Dawei, after the leaders of the two countries agreed last month in Bangkok that obstacles would be cleared to facilitate the multi-billion baht project.
A highway from Bang Yai in Nonthaburi via Nakhon Pathom and Kanchanaburi would help connect the Dawei port to the Greater Mekong Sub-region Southern Corridor, said Somsak Boonpratanporn, director of the assessment work group at the Highways Department.
The 98-kilometre tollway would cost 45.9 billion baht, said Mr Somsak, adding that compensation for the acquired land would cost 4.85 billion.
The motorway would be linked to the 70km Kanchanaburi-Ban Phu Nam Ron (Ratchaburi) route, now under feasibility study. Design work has been completed on the final 160km route from Ban Phu Nam Ron to Dawei, said Mr Somsak.
Veerawat Dheeraprasart, chairman of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, warned that the post-development problems at Dawei could be 10 times serious than what Map Ta Phut and Laem Chabang experienced.
The reason, he said, was that environmental and health regulations in Myanmar were very weak, so the rights and benefits of the Dawei communities would be compromised in the name of foreign investment.
"The ITD-initiated project has yet to take into account core principles mentioned in the Asean Charter including respect for human rights, cultural identity and diversity and sustainable development and environmental conservation goals," said Mr Veerawat.
He also called for the Highway Department to conduct a new environmental assessment of the planned motorway.
Dr Khanat Kruthkul of Ramathibodi Hospital said there should be a serious study of the potential health and social impacts that would accompany freer cross-border movement, industrialisation and environmental depletion.
Consumerism that inevitably emerges from industrialisation would change people's way of life, said Dr Khanat. They would become fatter, while communicable diseases such as malaria would become more resistant to medication, while viruses and parasites would also adapt and be difficult to deal with.
Suphakit Nuntavorakarn of the Healthy Public Policy Foundation said Thai civil society organisations did not oppose development. However, they want to see industries that best match the environmental and cultural characteristics of the Dawei region as well as Kanchanaburi.
For example, he said, there could be high impact from heavy and frequent loads of chemical substances and other materials being transported along the highway.
"Based on the initial form of investment, Myanmar's emissions of greenhouse gases will increase five times after the Dawei project's completion," he said.
Mr Suphakit said water consumption would be greater at 5.9 million cubic metres per day, with more waste water, industrial wastes and accumulated household and industrial garbage.
"Therefore, the investing company cannot simply do separate environmental impact assessments but needs to look at the overall picture as there is enormous impact on the people and the environment on both sides of the border," he said.