The Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province has been set up for more than 4 decades as a key engine under the 5th National Economic and Social Development Plan to drive Thailand’s economic development and become a country that is based on industrial production, both heavy and light, it was considered as one of the mechanisms promoting Thailand’s GDP. 30 years after its establishment pushed by the government, it became a significant model for the neighboring country like Myanmar to propel its economy. After Myanmar opened up the country, its government had launched in 2010 the 20-year National Comprehensive Development Plan (2011-2031) and in 2012 the Foreign Investment Law. The later focused on foreign trade and investment sectors coming into the country through the key mechanism which is the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) projects. The Dawei Deep Seaport and SEZ project is one of them having the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate as a prototype but 8 times larger.
As a result, on 25 August 2019, villagers affected by Dawei Road Link project, one of the 3 important projects under the Dawei Deep Seaport and SEZ project have visited those affected by the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, the “elder twin” of the Dawei Deep Seaport and SEZ project, discussing about their economic; social and environmental effects as well as the development overview.
This exchange between Dawei villagers and some of the affected villagers from the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate was held in a house located on an approximately 2-rai area allocated as a living space and various plant growing area surrounded by townhouses of workers migrated from several provinces into the industrial zone. This house belongs to Noi Jaitang, one of the key leaders of the Eastern People’s Network.
Noi, a 79-year-old man from Nong Tangmae community, said that he was the first group affected by the expropriation of approximately 40,000 rai of the land of the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. More than 20 rai of his land was expropriated to be used as a factory site in the industrial estate. Noi had received 300,000-baht compensation from the government, it was used to purchase approximately 2 rai of land for residing and earning a living, such compensation was however not worth the impacts. Apart from losing the house which was his current habitat, he also lost his career and income from his gardens and farms along with the products of over 20 rai of land which was uncountable. Not only is a source of over 1,000 baht per day, the land could also be transferred to his children as a heritage. Nowadays, Noi earns only 100-120 baht per day on average by selling his homegrown vegetables in the market.
“The government was able to find lands for foreign investors, but failed to do the same thing for their own people”. Noi reiterated the injustice that happened to the people who had to sacrifice for the economic development focusing on investing in large-scale industries in Map Ta Phut area.
In addition to habitat and arable land expropriation, the villagers here had to adjust and deal with the worse environment after the industrial estate and large factories came in more and more, there have been more phase expansions in the past 40 years. It is now in the 3rd phase.
“Since the factories founded, air pollution has happened with the stink covering all areas. Nearby communities; temples and schools were almost impossible to live in. When it rained, we needed to quickly spray water into the air and on our crops in order to reduce the toxic contamination.” said Noi.
He continued saying that the factories have caused water and air pollution, many people in the surrounding communities got sick. There were surprisingly a lot of cancer patients such as lung cancer and lymphoma. Several other diseases were also found, especially in regard to respiratory systems like allergy and dyspnea. The people living around the factories were both physically and mentally unhealthy.
When the problems were obvious, the affected villagers including Noi as a key leader have sought various methods to raise their voices towards the government describing their hardship. After suffering for more than 30 years, in 2009, the villagers therefore gathered and walked to Bangkok demonstrating their problems and asking relevant agencies to solve them.
The Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, as a result of that march, was announced by the Rayong Administrative Court as Pollution Control Area from 2009 onwards. But in reality, the situation was not as it should be since this industrial estate was greatly in its process of expansion in terms of size and production capacity entering its 3rd phase. It was even more concerned when Chachoengsao; Chonburi and Rayong provinces were announced to be an area of the Eastern Economic Corridor or EEC.
Sawang Krajabngen, a 52-year-old villager and representative of the Eastern People’s Network, one of the persons joining this discussion said that he used to be a worker in a glue manufacturing factory located in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate before quitting and then being a merchant in Nong Tangmae community. He together with other villagers have been asking for justice from the government and business sector after he found some important information explaining that the chemicals released from the factories had polluted and have significant health impacts on people and communities.
He interestingly shared with Dawei villagers that the industries: upstream; midstream or downstream, always released toxic substances through factory chimneys and wastewater treatment system into water sources including the sea. They also caused other different impacts with more than 400 types of toxic substance. Not only causing cancers and several kinds of respiratory disease, they could also result in other blood pressure-related and blood-related diseases. These hazardous substances were butadiene; benzene and so on.
When he knew about the danger of these toxic substances, he decided to leave the factory and find a new location in Map Ta Phut. He has been strongly fighting together with other affected people since 2006 or more than 13 years in total and has been considered as a key person revealing all bad information to the affected villagers as well as the general public.
The chemicals released from the flare and the wastewater discharged into water sources had caused pollution in different ways. Sawang emphasized that, in terms of water effects, the people in the communities could directly use ground and surface water, but they could no longer do so after the occurrence of the factories and the industrial estate. They needed to buy water from other places which brought about unnecessary additional expenses. Moreover, he said that it also affected the productivity of their crops and fruits which used to be their crucial economic crops, they are now unable to flourish as they should.
Saw Keh Doh, a representative from Dawei, expressed his sympathy to those affected by the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate and said that such water effect was a clear reflection for Dawei people to see what would happen to their communities. Even though they did not get directly affected by the industrial estate, but were already aware of water pollution such as the enormous loss of water sources for consumption and for aquatic animal breeding caused by the construction of the Road Link as one part of the whole Dawei project that will happen in the future.
Sawang also talked about sea effects as the factories discharged wastewater into the sea, various marine animals such as shrimps; shells; crabs and fishes were then contaminated. Many kinds of them are now scarce and expensive. The existing coastal fisheries are decreasing, fishermen have to go catching sea creatures about 30 kilometers off the coast since there are not many left near the coast where located the industrial estate. Most of the seafood here is mainly sourced from the sea in Chonburi province.
“Rayong province used to have 3 main pillars of its economic development strategy: industry; agriculture and tourism, but now there is an only industry left. Especially with its 3rd phase, we can easily imagine how the future of our grandchildren would be like.”
“As I used to be a worker in the factory, I could say that there were very few villagers here being able to work in the estate. These factories require workers with high and specific potentiality, they mainly depend on technology and machinery. Besides, the factories do not want to hire local people and are afraid that they will be aware of the impacts and tell others.”
Noi also added that most of the factory workers now are migrant workers, not the local people, they are mostly from the Northeast and neighboring countries. The major proportion is Cambodian labor as their wage is lower than Thai people.
“There are few real local people left, most of them were expropriated and had to move. They can no longer live here without land. Some used their compensation money to buy new land but finally sell it due to the pollution. Many people go to work as labor elsewhere while others go to buy new lands in another province for farming.” said Noi.
Apart from environmental; health and social impacts, there is also human rights violation problem, community leaders were threatened for example. Sawang again shared that rising to ask for justice and protecting our own rights must be heavily threatened and intimidated by the authorities. Many community leaders were always threatened to get killed by the assassins hired by those capitalists in various companies.
After the exchange, Noi and Sawang led Dawei villagers to Sai Thong beach which used to be one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in Thailand attracting a lot of tourists, it is now replaced with a long seawall. In front of us, we see so many flares; multiple groups of the industrial factory and some small shellfish farms that can grow in shallow water. Noi added that these shellfishes are all contaminated, no one here dares to eat seafood from this sea.
U Ye Aung, Dawei villager participated in this exchange said that this visit to Map Ta Phut allowed him to see the future of his homeland in case that the Dawei project had reached its completion. He also added and raised an interesting point that the Dawei project is similar to the Map Ta Phut but 8 times larger, imagine what it would be like with its full investment of heavy industries; petrochemicals and others.
The elder twin like the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, 8 times smaller in size, could have this much impact. It is an important issue for Dawei people to reconsider whether Myanmar’s way of development focusing on the economy; trade and production are driven by large-scale industry, especially in the form of SEZ would really create economic wealth for local people. They also need to think if it would be worth the exchange of local resources with the entry of machines; factories and huge capital groups which no guarantee of wealth distribution to local people. Although the Dawei project has begun for more than a decade now, it seems that the responsibility of the project developer is not yet apparent.