On the coastline of southern Myanmar, where the Andaman Sea meets white sand and lush forests, the villagers of Cha Kan harvest fish and salt from the ocean. This humble way of life has provided for the small community of approximately 100 people for generations. But today, looking at the temporary shanties where their homes once stood, it’s hard to picture anything but dust and construction.
In 2013, the local government bulldozed homes in Cha Kan to create space for a mammoth development project known as the the Dawei Special Economic Zone (DSEZ), which aims to transform the rural area into the largest deep-sea port and petrochemical facility in all of Southeast Asia. The DSEZ is a goliath joint project between the Myanmar, Thai and Japanese governments, with a list of private developers including the Italian-Thai Development Public Company, the largest construction company in Thailand.
For Myanmar, a nation recently emerging from almost 50 years of military rule and still heavily dependent on its vast natural resources, the lure of financial investment is intoxicating. The DSEZ project is forecast to increase Myanmar’s GDP by five percent over the next 30 years. Foreign investors also see opportunity in the project, because of cheap local labor, lax environmental regulations and the potential to provide the missing link for Asian trade to the Pacific and Indian oceans.