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Look Who Pays The Price Of Burma's Investment Fever

The new freedom of the Asian nation, also known as Myanmar, has drawn global investors in a race to profit from new development. But Burmese workers and farmers suffer the side-effects.

Look Who Pays The Price Of Burma's Investment Fever
Ric Wasserman

Bo Bo Aung traveled to Sweden for one reason: to warn about how huge investments may soon change the landscape, the environment and the economy of Burma, the Southeast Asian country also known as Myanmar.

“The main problem is that the companies and the businessmen register a large piece of land, and it can lead the local farmers to lose their land forever,” says the former teacher who became a land rights activist after he saw the way things were heading.

“In 2010, a special economic project came to Dawei and I thought, ‘I need to do something because this is huge.’ It’s the biggest project in Southeast Asia, an $86 billion project, so we need to do something, which is why I started to find a way to protect the local people.”

The Dawei project will be the biggest industrial commercial zone in Southeast Asia. When built, villagers will lose their homes and farms, and the proposed 4,000-megawatt coal-fired plant will also be a big polluter. The farmers, despite having land deeds, will be resettled and will likely receive little compensation.

Asked about compensation for those who are being moved off their land, the country’s Deputy Minister for Resettlement Phone Swe said, “We still have no idea.”

But not all see investments as so troublesome, says tour operator Pju Wee Ta, who sounds like an economic development booster. “The government has opened everything, so you should come and invest in Myanmar. Everything is fine, everything is open and ready for all.”

But it’s not the investments themselves that are under fire — rather the conditions attached, especially for the workers.

“In 2012, it was made legal to form a trade union,” says Frida Perjus, a trade union specialist at the Olof Palme Centre in Stockholm. “Around 700 labor unions have been formed since then, but many of these so-called ‘yellow unions’ are initiated and owned by the employers.”

The transition from military to civil law in Burma is slow. The rampant exploitation of labor, minerals and forests has also worsened the long-standing ethnic conflicts, says Bo Bo Aung. “In Shan state, there is still fighting. Sometimes fighting with the government and the military, sometimes between armed groups.”

At a forum held recently, a number of Burmese organizations were critical of the footprint of the new large development aid projects. “One thing is it’s not transparent, second is the government doesn’t have a clear policy to help the ethnic minority of Burma,” says Sai Khoong Pong, who works as a human rights adviser with the local Burmese group Kawdai. “So it will still ignore the minority of Burma and create more conflict, rather than help.”

Others argue that the country is being divided up, with the spoils going to the highest bidder.

And where is opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in all of this? It appears she’s being cautious — but one shouldn’t put all of Burma’s hopes in her alone, says Bo Bo Aung. “Her priority is to become president, and after that she can start doing things. But I find it hard to believe. Just one person cannot change everything”

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The Unsustainable Future Of Fish Farming — On Vivid Display In Turkish Waters

Currently, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming, compared to just 10% two decades ago. The short-sightedness of this shift risks eliminating fishing output from both the farms and the open seas along Turkey's 5,200 miles of coastline.

Photograph of two fishermen throwing a net into the Tigris river in Turkey.

Traditional fishermen on the Tigris river, Turkey.

Dûrzan Cîrano/Wikimeidia
İrfan Donat

ISTANBUL — Turkey's annual fish production includes 515,000 tons from cultivation and 335,000 tons came from fishing in open waters. In other words, 60% of Turkey's fish currently comes from cultivation, also known as fish farming.

It's a radical shift from just 20 years ago when some 600,000 tons, or 90% of the total output, came from fishing. Now, researchers are warning the current system dominated by fish farming is ultimately unsustainable in the country with 8,333 kilometers (5,177 miles) long.

Professor Mustafa Sarı from the Maritime Studies Faculty of Bandırma 17 Eylül University believes urgent action is needed: “Why were we getting 600,000 tons of fish from the seas in the 2000’s and only 300,000 now? Where did the other 300,000 tons of fish go?”

Professor Sarı is challenging the argument from certain sectors of the industry that cultivation is the more sustainable approach. “Now we are feeding the fish that we cultivate at the farms with the fish that we catch from nature," he explained. "The fish types that we cultivate at the farms are sea bass, sea bram, trout and salmon, which are fed with artificial feed produced at fish-feed factories. All of these fish-feeds must have a significant amount of fish flour and fish oil in them.”

That fish flour and fish oil inevitably must come from the sea. "We have to get them from natural sources. We need to catch 5.7 kilogram of fish from the seas in order to cultivate a sea bream of 1 kg," Sarı said. "Therefore, we are feeding the fish to the fish. We cannot cultivate fish at the farms if the fish in nature becomes extinct. The natural fish need to be protected. The consequences would be severe if the current policy is continued.”

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