ITD project seen causing health, environment hit
Civil society and academics have called on the government and contractor Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) to review the Dawei deep-sea port plan and listen to the views of residents who stand to be affected.While the development is in Myanmar, Thais will also be affected by proposed highways to be built to link Dawei to Thailand by road.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is to lead her economic ministers on a visit to Myanmar on Sept 19-21 to follow up on progress in Dawei since leaders of the two countries agreed last month in Bangkok to clear any obstacles to the multi-billion-baht project.
Pojanee Artarotpinyo, director of the National Economic and Social Development Board's spatial development planning and strategy office, said the Council of State has yet to complete a draft bill on a special economic zone in Kanchanaburi to accommodate the development of the Dawei project.
Ms Pojanee added that the Finance Ministry is looking at ways to help ease the financial burden ITD faces with the massive venture.
"Since the Thai government has already pledged strong support for the project, all agencies are now coordinating closely with their Myanmar counterparts to finalise the project," Ms Pojanee said.
Speaking at a recent seminar titled "Thai-Myanmar Relations: From Map Ta Phut to Dawei", organised by Mahidol University's faculty of environment and resource studies, she said issues the two governments have continued to negotiate include the project's specific location, features or characteristics and financing models.
She said the Dawei project should consider lessons learned from Thailand's Eastern Seaboard industrial area development, including those relating to environmental and health problems.
Somsak Boonpratanporn, head of the Highways Department's assessment working group for Dawei, said the department has two Dawei-related highway projects to develop.
The first is the 98km Bang Yai (Nonthaburi)-Nakhon Pathom-Kanchanaburi highway that will help connect Dawei to the GMS Southern Corridor, which runs from the western border of Thailand to the eastern coast of Vietnam.
The highway will cost 45.88 billion baht, of which 4.85 billion baht is set aside for land expropriation.
This motorway could link to another 70km highway, which is currently undergoing a feasibility study, from Kanchanaburi to Ban Phu Nam Ron, the border village in Ratchaburi province, to connect with the 160km Dawei-Ban Phu Nam Ron highway being developed by ITD.
Veerawat Dheeraprasart, chairman of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, said post-Dawei development problems would be 10 times more serious than those seen in the Map Ta Phut industrial area and Laem Chabang deep-sea port.
He added that the lack of efficient environmental and health regulation enforcement in Myanmar put the communities around Dawei at risk of being compromised in the name of foreign investment.
"The ITD-developed 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," Mr Veerawat said.
He also called for the Highways Department to conduct a new environmental impact assessment on the planned motorways.
He urged both the Thai and Myanmar governments to review the project to show that the two Asean members are concerned not only with the economic benefits but also want to look after the socio-cultural front.
Khanat Kruthkul, a doctor at Ramathibodi Hospital, said there should be a serious study into the potential health and social impacts of freer cross-border movement, industrialisation and environmental depletion.
The consumerism that inevitably emerges from industrialisation would change local people's way of life, Dr Khanat said.
People could grow fatter as they become more wealthy, he said, while communicable diseases and parasites would become more resistant to medication.
Suphakit Nuntavorakarn, a researcher from the Healthy Public Policy Foundation, said Thai civil society organisations do not oppose development. They merely want to see the promotion of industries that best match the environmental and cultural characteristics of the Dawei region as well as Kanchanaburi, he said.
"Myanmar's greenhouse gas emissions will increase by five times after the Dawei project is complete," Mr Suphakit said.
He said water consumption would be greater at 5.9 million cubic metres a day, with more waste water, industrial waste and household and industrial garbage.
"Therefore, the investing company needs to look at the overall picture as there will be an enormous impact on the people and the environment on both sides of the border," he said.