Paper Tigers: Development in Myanmar On the pristine coastline of Southern Myanmar where the Andaman sea is met with white sands and lush forests, rural Burmese have lived off the bounty of the land and the ocean for generations. However a sleeping giant threatens the way of life of those in the region, now the epicenter of what is slated to become the largest deep-sea port and petrochemical facility in all of southeast Asia, a mammoth project known as the The Dawei Special Economic Zone (DSEZ). While some villages have already been forcefully evacuated, precious agricultural lands destroyed and traditional ways of life forever disrupted, the worst is yet to come for those that call the area home. The DSEZ represents a goliath of industry, a joint project between the Myanmar, Thai and Japanese governments and a list of private developers including the Italian-Thai Development Public Company, the largest construction company in Thailand. Essentially Myanmar sits as a silent partner, handing over access to its land in exchange for much-needed funds. The projected benefits to foreign investors are great with the potential to provide the missing link for a Southern Economic Corridor connecting Asian trade with the Pacific and Indian oceans. Ground zero for the DSEZ sits just north of the port town of Dawei and if plans are realized, the project will inhabit an approximate two hundred square kilometer industrial zone whose initial phases (already well underway) involve the construction of a small port, power plants, two-lane road to Thailand, LNG terminal, township, telecom landline and an industrial estate. Beyond the initial phase is a more ambitious plan that could see the DSEZ become one of the largest special economic zones in the world. For Myanmar, a very poor nation recently emerging from almost 50 years of military rule and heavily dependent upon the its vast natural resources, the lure of massive financial gain is intoxicating. However with the vast majority of the heavy development yet to come, many uncertainties surround the project that has already been sidetracked by delays and funding shortfalls. Of glaring concern is how the needs of those that stand to be most affected will be considered. A new environmental activism is growing at a grassroots level and stands in opposition to the project, a dissident voice that would have been heavily punishable under regime rule. However Myanmar lacks adequate laws to regulate the enormous environmental impacts from a development like the DSEZ and it remains to be seen how the poor country will manage such a massive project and if leadership will listen. “In Myanmar, law is like a paper tiger. There is no enforcement” says Thant Zin, a co-ordinator at the Dawei Development Authority, an organization working to bring community and local organizations together in opposition to the DSEZ. At present limited information is being shared by the government, no meaningful consultations are taking place and a lack of transparency pushes the project along behind closed doors. Concessions have been made without realistic consideration of how people that have survived off the land for generations will provide for themselves once their forests have been removed and access to their oceans denied. Only time will if the DSEZ will expand to its full capacity and how it will impact the lives of those Burmese in its wake. However the stark visual evidence that can already be seen in the form of destroyed forests, polluted agricultural lands, crudely constructed roads offers foreshadowing of a precarious outcome. While the impacts of economic development are necessary evils in a modern world, the level of accountability the new leadership of Myanmar provides to its citizens and its natural environment remains to be decided.