The SHWE Gas Movement: For a Sustainable Future in a Free and Democratic Burma


For a Sustainable Future in a Free and Democratic Burma



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Shwe Stakeholders: Peoples

Arakan State, Burma

Sittwe market

Arakan State is a long narrow strip of land facing the Bay of Bengal to the West and flanked by a high mountain range to the East, which cuts it off from the rest of Burma. Arakan has a long history as an independent kingdom, and its ancient capital, Mrauk-U, is considered one of the most impressive among cultural heritages remaining in Burma today.

The people from Arakan had been living in their own land for millennia under their own sovereignty, with flourishing cultures and traditions. The Arakanese people lost their independence when the Burmese invasion into the land of Arakan in 1784.

Traditional procession through
the streets of Sittwe

Ethnically and religiously diverse, Arakan State is a melting pot of peoples and cultures, mainly practising Buddhism or Islam.

Most Arakanese people engage in rice farming and fishing. These daily works are, together with religion, cornerstones in the identity and daily survival of the people. The Kaladan river is the largest in western Burma and much of the infrastructure and life of Arakanese people is centred around its banks. The Shwe Gas Project threatens the livelihood of river and sea fishermen (see Issues: Exploiting the Voiceless), and a gas pipeline through the river could have disastrous environmental impacts (see Issues: Environmental and Cultural Destruction).

As with their neighbouring Bangladeshis, the people of Arakan are accustomed to the fierce powers of nature, with regular cyclones that claim human lives. This region receives about five metres of rainfall during an average monsoon season. Human rights abuses also claim many lives in Arakan every year. (see Issues: Human Rights Abuses and Militarisation)

Unloading sea fish

Life in Arakan is difficult because of hard labour, especially in the rural areas, where forced labour is still rampant. Some villagers have been forced to do such things as digging and damming up fishery and prawn ponds for the interest of the authorities. The only thing they receive anything from the authorities is mistreatment. Diseases such as diarrhea are common because they are compelled to work under the sun and have to drink impure water. Such instances of forced labour have already begun intensifying in Arakan ahead of the Shwe Project. (see also Issues: Entrenchment of the Military Regime )

Most villagers have to live hand to mouth and farmers toil under rain and sun only to sell their rice at below-market prices to the ruling authority. These Arakanese, like most Burmese, are denied adequate education and have little to no knowledge about the world, let alone the situation in their own state. The only thing they know is that they have to work very hard for tomorrow's meals. If not, they cannot have enough money to buy rice. [2]

Minority Thet woman

To make matters worse, there is no school and very little education for in many villages. The Burmese junta, or State Peace and Development Council, (SPDC) turns a blind eye to education problems in the rural areas.

There is inadequate electricity both in urban and rural areas in Arakan. Even Site-tway, the capital city of Arakan State, gets electricity two or three hours a day at the nighttime by the generators. [2] As a result, the people from Arakan depend on wood for cooking. They have to cut the wood from the forests and store them for the rainy season, which damages the eco-system and the wildlife. The more remote jungles of Arakan house a wide variety of fauna and flora such as wild tigers, elephants, colourful wild life and diverse species of monkeys and orchids, but are fast disappearing because of mismanagement.

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[1] Forum Asia

[2] Anonymous sources within Burma


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