Myanmar: Special economic zone impacts on communities in Thilawa (part 1: documentation)

Conditions of displaced and resettled residents in the Thilawa special economic zone as of September 2016  
As recounted by: 16 anonymous residents of the Thilawa relocation site

Photo credit: Raphael Olschner

Community consultation

-      In Thanlyin in 2013, villagers residing on 400 hectares of land were called to three consultations by the Office of the Housing Department because they were to be displaced.

-      The consultations were based solely on the agenda decided by department officials; the participants were not consulted about the agenda, and were not given the opportunity to raise comments.

-      Villagers were forced to relocate and were warned of 30 days imprisonment if they did not follow the order. There was forced displacement. There were some local people who waited until the project began before relocating; they were also threatened with imprisonment.

-      Displacement started in November 2013. Two installments were made for compensation for crops and houses. The relocation area was not yet ready for housing when relocation started.

-      Officials from departments concerned told villagers that there were job opportunities in companies in the industrial zone.

-      The relocation area provided narrow space and made it difficult for villagers to find livelihood options.

-      Due to insufficient land area, the relocation area is not suitable for livestock and agricultural activities. Because of the difficulty with finding livelihood, the villagers’ income decreased and they found it hard to meet their needs; this applies until now.


-      Some of the affected local people were originally living on the 400 hectares with their ancestors owning the land. Some inhabitants have receipts of tax payments for their land.

-      Local people depend on their land for agriculture, livestock breeding and livelihood.

-      In 2013, companies and concerned departments acquired the villagers’ land and compensated the crops, houses and land without providing clear reason of renting or buying.

-      In the 400 hectares of land, there were new inhabitants that were not originally living there. Before displacement for the special economic zone took place, the new inhabitants agreed to negotiate with the Housing Department for land compensation; they agreed to move. However, when actual relocation happened, 12 of the new inhabitants did not get the substitute housing and compensation that was promised. They are asking for compensation until now, but officials are not responding.

Water supply

-      There are six hand pumps and two wells for drinking water. Among them, two hand pumps and one well are useable. The useable hand pumps do not function sometimes, causing difficulties with drinking water supply. During the monsoon, drinking water is sufficient because of rain water, but drinking water is still difficult in the summer season. Sometimes, they have to buy water from well owners for 150 MMK per one barrel of water.


-      The major livelihoods of the local people who used to live on the 400 hectares of land are taung-yar (hill cultivation), farming, and livestock breeding as their families’ business. As they are not able to make a living in the relocation area from growing plants and livestock breeding, they find themselves in debt in order to meet their necessities.

-      Because of the project, the living standards and income of the affected local people were greatly affected. The new houses and land relocation provided for them are not fit for their usual livelihood.

Culture & tradition

In the old area, there were traditional events held in the Hindu temples. In the relocation area, temples are far away and difficult to get to. Besides, people don’t have much interest in going to temples because of their living difficulties.


During the years 2015 to 2016, the number of immigrants (i.e. from other towns, wards, etc.) in the relocation area has been increasing. Immigrants now occupy 23 houses in the relocation area, which have been lost by original occupants after using the house as collateral for debt.

-      Due to lack of income, most of them had to pawn their houses and then eventually lost the houses.

-      When the original dwellers are unable to pay their debt and therefore lose their houses, they either move to a new place or stay in the same area and become renters.

-      There is no conflict between local people and immigrants.

-      Currently, there is no observed impact on local people’s status (especially status of women or children) due to immigrants.

Local employment

-      Currently, there are only 15 local people who have been able to get jobs in companies in the zone.

-      Those people are working as night guard, cleaner, plant grower and so on.

-      Most of the affected local people have not completed school and only know how to grow plants and breed livestock. The relocation area is not sufficient for agriculture & livestock breeding. It’s difficult for them to find alternate livelihood options and make an income.

-      Before relocating, concerned officials promised that there would be job opportunities. Only a few were able to get a job.

-      Currently, some people take on casual work while some are jobless.

-      Trainings in sewing, driving, mechanic work & agriculture (mushroom production) were provided, however, local people are not able to apply their learnings in practice. Only three people who received the mushroom production training have been successful in their business so far.

-      Before the relocation, concerned officials promised verbally that local people would receive three acres of communal land for agricultural activities. This promise has not been fulfilled yet.

Community development & opportunity

-      During the 2013 period of displacement and relocation, scholarships were awarded at 30,000 MMK per student. In the following years 2014-2015, stationery for students were provided. Pot holes were fixed on roads and in the housing area.

-      In 2015, cash support of 30 lakhs MMK per household was given in three installments.

-      Currently, a community centre for the village is being constructed.

-      In 2016, a water tank is being built for drinking water in the dry season.


-      Due to inconveniences in their living condition, some elderly members of the community have been experiencing depression.

-      Cases of hypertension and dizziness are increasing due to the foul smell from latrines and drainage systems.

-      Women get worried, concerned, and depressed due to the difficulty of earning money.

Other issues


The women are now accepting casual labour; they were working calmly in their own homes previously. With the project, there have been less job opportunities for women.



-      When relocation took place in 2013, it was the middle of the children’s school season. Eleven out of 65 students had to drop out of school due to relocation.

-      There is no school for relocated children, and they face many difficulties in attending schools in different villages.

-      Children who attended new schools experienced difficulties in learning due to crowded classrooms and an unfamiliar environment.


-      It is difficult to manage garbage in the small compound. The Development Committee comes to collect the garbage once a month.

-      Starting July this year, the Development Committee has not come to collect garbage. Two months since then, the compound has become a dump.

Current Issues


-      Insufficient drinking water in the dry season.

-      Foul smell and waste water overflow from latrines during the monsoon.

-      There is no proper drainage system and no proper latrine system and this spreads foul smell in the whole area.

-      There are still concerns about ownership of the relocation land and houses as relocated people don’t have any documents.

-      Three houses are under mortgage currently; 23 houses have been sold from 2014 to 2016.

-      There is no regular garbage collection and the compound is becoming a dump.

-      Frequent malfunctioning of the water hand pumps costs a lot.

-      Lack of income and having no jobs put the affected locals in debt, forcing them to use their house as collateral and then ending up homeless. Some had to move to low-rent houses.

Community’s voice

-      The affected people need jobs. 20 people became homeless during the period 2014 to 2016 due to lack of livelihood. People are scared of becoming homeless.

-      The affected people want access to sufficient drinking water.

-      The affected community wants their latrines and drainage systems repaired.

-      They want effective models of credit schemes or microfinance.

-      They want communal land for agricultural activities and small-scale livestock breeding.