Brennan O’Connor
[gallery type="slideshow" ids="103205,103204,103203,103202"] DAWEI, Tenasserim Division — The Dawei special economic zone (SEZ) has been billed as an economic gateway that will, for better or worse, irrevocably change this once remote and sleepy capital of Tenasserim Division in Burma’s southeast. As part of the long-stalled project, a deep-sea port is expected to rival Singapore’s, and the SEZ itself will reportedly cover a 196 square kilometer patch of land that would make it one of Southeast Asia’s largest industrial zones. However, since the project’s plans were unveiled, large-scale local opposition has arisen due to environmental and social concerns. According to the Dawei Development Association (DDA)’s 2014 “Voices from the Ground” report, the project will affect upwards of 43,000 people living in 36 villages inside the SEZ. The report bemoaned the lack of consultation with affected communities and inadequate compensation for confiscated land. Some who were promised payment are still waiting. In one area, protective coastal mangrove forests were cleared to make way for the zone, the report said, and the government’s plans to utilize coal in powering the project’s construction have also been criticized. On the other hand, some locals remain hopeful that new factories to be built in the zone will bring jobs and thus stimulate a long-suffering local economy. Funding shortages have meant the billion dollar project has been stalled since 2013—the latest in a string of setbacks since the SEZ was officially initiated in 2008. But with Japan joining Burma and Thailand in developing the project, developers expect construction to inch along in 2016. With so many delays, nothing can be taken for granted, not least projections for the project’s completion, now set for 2023. What is certain is that by the time the SEZ is complete, this remote jewel on the Andaman Sea coast, with unpolluted water and pristine beaches, and home to dozens of quintessential fishing villages, will be forever changed.

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