Madae Island located in Kyaukpru Township of Arakan State is a crucial location on the Shwe Gas pipeline project. It is where a deep seaport for Chinese oil tankers is located. Oil storage tanks, drinking water tanks for seagoing vessels, oil terminals, oil and natural gas pipelines, and living quarters for Chinese engineers are being built on the island. Due to all these projects on the island, what has been happening to the lands of local people that have been passed down in families for generations? Narinjara had a chance to ask an elder from the island on the phone. He began talking about his island as follows:
(How many villages are there on Madae Island and what is the total population?)
- There are three big villages on Madae Island. They are Rwa Ma Village, Prain Village, and Kyauk Tan Village. There are about 700 houses on those three villages and about 2000 people live there.
(How do most of the people make their living?)
Most of the residents used to rely on fishing for their livelihood, while others rely on growing crops and vegetables, and on raising cows and animals. Now such means of livelihood are almost gone.
We, residents of Madae Island make a living at fishing. Now those Chinese build big ports. Construction wastes such as mud, silt, rocks fragments were recklessly flushed out to the rivers and creeks. So we can’t fish anymore. We are having a hard time finding fish around. While going fishing, we have to stay away from their ships. Our fishing nets got stuck under the excavated rocks and mud and were lost. We are losing our livelihood here.
(What about agriculture businesses?)
This island has a lot of grazing land for cows. Now the Chinese have graded the land. They leveled the mountains so the cows cannot graze anymore. Cows have nowhere to graze. We are losing agriculture lands as well. After they destroyed the mountains, the land below became infertile. They also dammed the water upstream. So we lost arable lands downstream. Our island is in total jeopardy.
(Some jobs are created for the locals, right?)
The locals are called for jobs paying 6000 [kyats] per day. But the middlemen only give us 2000 [kyats per day]. And, not everyone gets such jobs. Even when [the villagers] get them, the jobs are not desirable. They are the jobs that no one wants. The locals are forced to work all day and are harassed. With the jobs [the Chinese] provide us, a lot of locals are struggling to put the food on the table.
(We heard that schools and clinics were built for the people.)
Now one clinic was built. But we don’t know whether a physician or a medical staff will come and work there. They also built a new school. But there are no students because here we are struggling for our everyday meals. Because of the Chinese, our rivers are gone (polluted.) We can’t fish anymore. Over half of the locals are struggling with food and daily needs. That new school does not benefit us. That school won’t raise our education standard. That’s why I feel angry whenever I see that school they built. What can we do with that school when our stomach is empty?
(Didn’t anyone report such loss of rights to the authorities?)
We are just trying to now. Since there is no one to help us, we don’t know how to proceed. That’s why we have not done anything yet. And, the locals think that the authorities won’t do anything even if we do report it. They don’t feel confident right now.
(This is your government. If you report, they will become aware of the situation and they will try to solve your problems, right?)
We don’t think so. The Chinese are not the only ones who are making our life miserable. The officers are doing the same. In our area, the mayor announced all those decrees and put up all the regulation boards with white lettering on the red background around the village and along the pond embankments. We are being banned to do certain things. There are so many prohibitions. Basically we are not allowed to raise cow, buffalo and other animals. We are not allowed to weed the land. No burning. No throwing seeds. No swimming. No fishing. These are what the authorities wrote. That’s why we think nothing will come to our favor even if we report.
(How do all those bans trouble the locals?)
When we raise cows, we let them roam around. Now we cannot raise them anymore. Because of all those bans, we can no longer work on the garden land. When we don’t weed the land and burn the weeds, they just ruin the land. Also we have some difficulty with transportation. Because of the bans, our rights are being limited and we can no longer make new garden. We can no longer raise cows, buffalo and other animals. We are not allowed to build tents or houses to stay for some time. All those bans are giving us a lot of trouble.
(Did not they do anything to develop for the locals?)
So far, there is nothing for the locals. There is one big lake and they dammed it. They said they will distribute water for the locals. Our island has always had enough water. What do we have to do with their water distribution?
(Because of that dammed lake, we heard of some damages to the locals. Why?)
When they flooded the lake, it became very difficult to travel to the garden land located at the south of the water. It used to take about 10 minutes to travel around. Now it takes about 2 hours. People are managing to go to the garden land. Now it seems that people will no longer be able to work on those garden lands. It is extremely difficult to transport produce from those lands, such as betel nut and vegetables.
(When they dammed the lake, did you all lose some land? Is there some garden land that was lost?
Yes. We lost [some garden land]. They compensated for our loss according their designated compensation formula. However, all those officers cut and cut for different reasons. At the end, the locals ended up receiving so little.
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