By Pattramon Sukprasert
Dawei, Myanmar, March 19, 2017
Over a decade ago, the Myaung Pyo creek in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region was clean and crystal clear — a steady, trickling life source. The creek, running alongside a stretch of lush farmland, was relied on by villagers for various daily tasks such as watering crops.
Today the waterway is barely recognisable — its murky, shallow water is awash in sediment. Nearby plantations, mainly for producing betal palms, also look like they are wilting.
“It’s so sad that the creek is gone,” said Zaw Moe Aung, a Myaung Pyo villager. “The villagers are very attached to the river. We used it to drink, water plants and cook.”
The stream began to visibly dry up in the 1990s after Heinda Tin Mine, which is run by Thai-owned Myanmar Pongpipat Co, set up shop in the area.
Villagers say the mine produced a glut of tailings that contaminated the creek, not only rendering the water unclean but also destroying arable land with waste sediment pile-ups.
But Heinda Tin Mine precedes Myanmar Pongpipat’s presence, having been operating since 1963. Back when the mine began, villagers say the impact of mining on the landscape was far less noticeable because the extraction methods were less harmful.
Srisuwan Kuankajorn, director of the non-profit Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra), says there has been a rise in Thai investors in Southeast Asian countries.
“The increase [in Thai investors] is taking place as Thailand becomes more costly for investors,” says Mr Srisuwan. “There is also an increasing number of environmental activists. Environmental laws have become more strict. Meanwhile, neighbouring countries are keen to bring in investors to reap various economic benefits.
This trend of overseas investment has been met with growing concerns about investors disregarding the negative implications for human rights and the environment in their business practices.
A statement titled “Thailand’s Extraterritorial Obligations in Transboundary Investments” was composed by several NGOs, civil society groups and various community networks in Thailand and Southeast Asia to address how this trend of investment has given rise to a lack of accountability for human rights and environmental side effects.
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