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In Pictures—China’s Dream of Burmese Gas

Saw Yan Naing The Irrawaddy

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The controversial Shwe Gas pipeline project dissects Burma from the Bay of Bengal in western Arakan State through to the Chinese border in northeastern Shan State.

Civil society groups have fiercely criticized the humanitarian impact of the scheme which has seen numerous land evictions and associated human rights abuses, and so The Irrawaddy sent its own photographers to assess the situation.

Following the pipeline’s route in Mandalay Division and Shan State, they documented the current construction work and its impact on local people firsthand on June 5-6.

Building materials, excavation machinery, backhoes, cement mixers, trucks, bags of cement and piles of gas pipes were seen scattered around. The work is taking place in agricultural fields, farms and other property where the photographers passed by.

Workers have built makeshift shelters where they rest after their daily toil. The pipeline route is then cleaned up yet many local people claim to have had their lives devastated from being forced off their land.

The Shwe Gas Movement, an NGO that is monitoring the pipeline construction, has documented a raft of human rights violations related to the project.

Its recent report “Sold Out” claims the work has directly affected 80,000 people from 21 townships displaced along the 800-km (500-mile) pipeline route. A total of 33 Burmese army battalions are currently deployed along the corridor in Arakan and Shan states to provide security.

The rights group also expressed serious concerns to the United Nations regarding the social, economic and environmental impact attributed to the Burmese, Chinese, South Korean and Indian companies involved. Set to come online in 2013, the pipeline is touted to become Burma’s largest source of foreign revenue by generating an estimated US $29 billion over 30 years.

Another report titled “Burma’s resource curse: The case for revenue transparency in the oil and gas sector,” produced by the Arakan Oil Watch NGO, claims that Burma’s revenues are set to increase by 60 percent as new gas exports to China and Thailand begin next year. In addition, the report claims 41 oil and gas blocks are currently under exploration by various foreign companies.

However, nearly all gas involved will be exported to generate power in China despite roughly 75 percent of the Burmese population not having access to electricity from the national grid, according to Shwe Gas Movement.