Written by Julz:
This afternoon our group visited the office of the Shwe Gas Movement; a community-based organisation campaigning for human rights and environmental justice. Their focus is on the Shwe Gas Project — the construction of dual oil and natural gas pipelines that runs from the Yunnan province in the South-West of China across through Burma linking to a deep water port, just to the west of the Burmese coastline in the Bay of Bengal. This project is backed by a consortium of Chinese, South Korean and Indian companies.
Along with his colleagues, Wong Aung, the coordinator at the Shwe Gas Movement spoke to us not only about their concerns and the devastating impacts regarding the construction of the pipelines but also their demands for a more accountable and transparent process involving local stakeholders. For example, prior to the commencement of the project, an environmental feasibility study was performed but was never released to the public for review.
The main concerns outlined were grave human rights abuses in relation to forced labour and land confiscation; environmental degradation of the forest and costal ecosystems; restricted development for the local communities; and increased conflict between the military and ethnic groups. It was disturbing to hear that the impact on women is even more prominent with women being paid half as much as men for the same work and an increase in the sex industry to serve the influx of foreign workers. After listening to all the concerns, it is not surprising to learn that anti-Chinese sentiment is growing in Burma.
The Shwe Gas Project is only one of many examples of the regime’s continued push to export the country’s natural resources to neighbouring areas while domestically, Burma’s population still live in unhygienic living conditions without proper food and healthcare. We were surprised to discover that despite only 13% of Burma’s population having regular access to electricity, 25% of Thai’s electricity comes from Burma; and those statistics only show the percentage in Burma’s major cities as electricity to the ethnic regions is limited or in most cases non-existent.
The Shwe Gas pipeline is expected to generate $29 billion in revenue in 20 years, and if the distribution of income from previous projects is any indication, than it is more than likely that a majority of the money will go directly to the regime. For example, the Yadana-Yetagun pipeline from the 1990s generated $9 billion in revenue of which $5 billion was funnelled into the regime’s offshore bank accounts. Frustratingly, this pipeline will feed China’s energy needs and benefit the regime financially while the Burmese population continue to live below the poverty line.
This is only a brief overview of what we heard today, but if you are interested in reading more about the Shwe Gas Movement, please visit their website: http://www.shwe.org