FARMERS in Rakhine State’s Kyaukpyu township who own land near a China-backed natural gas pipeline say the construction of the project has damaged some of their fields, making it difficult to grow their crops.
While the Chinese firm building the pipeline paid compensation for the land directly affected by the pipeline construction, farmers told The Myanmar Times late last month that the project had also impacted fields for which they were not paid compensation.
The project is being built by South East Asia Gas Pipeline Co, a joint venture between China National Petroleum Corporation and Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. The compensation was given to the villagers by township officials.
Daw Hla Aye from Si Maw village, who owns about 3 acres in a valley bisected by the pipeline, said she was unable to grow paddy in any of her fields this year because of the construction work.
“When the earth was placed back into the trench that was dug for the pipeline, it created an embankment so the fields in the upstream area are like ponds. I accepted full compensation [of K2.54 million] for half an acre of land as well as some trees, such as tamarind and plum, that I was told were in the path of the project,” she said. “But we can’t grow in the fields in the lower part of valley because of the digging up of the earth.”
While the earth has been backfilled in the area around Si Maw, the raised soil above the pipeline route spreads into low-lying fields when it rains, residents said.
U Aung San Kyaw, another farmer from Si Maw village, located about one hour south of Kyaukpyu, also said that more farmland had been affected than he was compensated for.
“The pile of soil [from the pipeline route] has spread over the fields and into other plots,” he said.
“I asked the [construction company] to move this earth with their heavy machinery and they said they would help me but I haven’t seen them so far. If there is more rain, it will become impossible to move their heavy machinery into this area and clear the earth. We can’t hope for good production in a field that is covered in silt like that.”
He said authorities from the township administrative office had told him further compensation would be given if additional land was affected by the pipeline construction. However, like most of the farmers The Myanmar Times interviewed, U Aung San Kyaw said he had not approached township or company officials for additional compensation. All said they wanted to continue farming their land rather than receive compensation.
U Kyauk Thee from Pyar Tel village said that he would need to spend a great deal of time and money to repair small embankments in his fields that were damaged during the digging of the trench for the pipeline.
“We accepted K1.5 million compensation for the area, about 1 acre, that was included in the project route,” he said.
“But the embankments were destroyed … How can I grow [paddy] in the field without water? I estimate that the production rate will also be down because of the earth that was dug up and left in the fields,” he said.
Farmers from Hnan Phal Taung village said they were expecting farmland near the pipeline route could be damaged in coming months, as heavy rainfall washes even more soil dug up to lay the pipeline over the fertile fields.
“Now it is time to grow [paddy] but [the company] hasn’t filled back the trench yet in some areas. The earth is still piled in the fields,” U Hla Shwe, who owns about two acres in Hnan Phal Taung village, said on May 22.
“It will greatly interrupt the growing process in the fields, especially in low-lying areas. The earth will flow with the streams along the valley and flood the fields in the lower-lying areas. Because of this we worry that we will lose everything,” he said.
“About 6 inches is fertile topsoil. But various kinds of soil are … included in the earth that was dug of for the pipeline. The quality of the original soil will decrease if they mix it with the earth that was dug up. It will also be hard for cows to walk in that soil and difficult for us to adjust the water level.”
A spokesperson for the Friendship Association for the Myanmar-China Pipeline Project, a group established by the companies building the natural gas pipeline and an associated oil pipeline to communicate with the media, said the complaints were being investigated and steps would be taken to address them.
Project officials reported that “backfill of the mentioned areas has been completed”, the spokesperson said. They have tried over the past week to meet the villagers who complained about the effects of the pipeline but had been unable “due to the heavy rain”.
“After the backfill, it will take some time for the soil to settle, so the huge rain may wash the soil into the uncompensated areas, but the environmental supervision [company] shall revisit the pipeline route regularly to solve the problems as a part of the water and earth protection process,” the spokesperson said in an email last week.
“Extra soil and stones that can’t be backfilled into the original place … would be put into a special [designated] area for soil and stones (those areas have been approved by the government and the land have been fully compensated).”
If the complaints are verified, the pipeline owner and a “supervision company” hired to assess workplace and environmental safety associated with the project will assist the engineering, procurement and construction contractor – in this case Punj Lloyd Limited – “to solve the problems”, she said.
She said that South-East Asia Gas Pipeline and South-East Asia Crude Oil Pipeline companies, which are co-owned by China National Petroleum Corporation and Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, took environmental issues seriously.