This week, we look at land confiscations for construction of hotel zones and we introduce some of the controversies surrounding the proposal to move the Yangon Zoo out of town.
Protests against forced expropriation of land in Burma are increasing and “hundreds of farmers call on the President to resolve land disputes.” Among other economic sectors, tourism is also affected.
Indeed, almost 250 farmers in Pathein Township, Irrawaddy Division, said the project to turn their farmlands into a luxury hotel complex abutting the picturesque Ngwe Saung beach was a ‘land grab’.” Farmers petitioned the authorities to provide for them real compensation or return their land.
The land confiscations, even though they were said to be used for socio-economic development of the region, have made farmers and other local people even poorer. The most damaging effects to the victims are threats to food security and the loss of livelihoods. When they lose their land, many of the farmers have no income to maintain adequate living standards for their families: “Many of the children also had to drop out of school before graduating as their parents could no longer afford to pay for their education […] Some also have to work for daily wages at the hotels built on their lands.”
On the proposal of President’s Office Minister Soe Thein to turn Yangon Zoo “into a green park and relocate [the zoo] outside the city’s core” to Hlwaga National Park, there are divided opinions. The zoo has functioned as a recreational and educative site since it was created with public donations in 1901, in honor of Queen Victoria. Controversy surrounds the zoo since 2011, when its land lease was transferred to the tycoon Tay Zay’s Htoo Group of Companies.
As the first article rightly points out, Yangon Zoological Garden is considered by Lonely Planet as one of the two Yangon attractions that are “meant to appeal directly to the little ones.” The article reviews some of the testimonies gathered by people of all ages living in the Yangon area and the views are pretty unanimous: “I am sad for the next generation – they won’t have a chance to visit the zoo because it will be so far away from the city.” “I would be really sad if the zoo moved – I’ve loved it since I was a child and have so many fond memories […].”
“Minister suggests moving zoo due to smell, health and threats”. This second article explains that, according to the minister, “the zoo move was just an idea” and that “his proposal was not indented to make money through wheeling and dealing with businessmen.” The article also states that if Burmese people do not agree to move the zoo on the outskirts of Yangon, their decision will be respected.
However, the last article highlights that these arguments – to protect people’s health and to tackle the smells of the animals – do not appear to be convincing for zoo lovers: “The smell of animals at the zoo is not recent […]. The smell is as old as the zoo. If it is so bad, the zoo’s operator can get rid of it by installing the right technology.” Just like the other two articles, this text underlines the fact that Burmese people see the zoo as a part of the city’s heritage. Therefore, “we have to treasure it. If it is driven out of town, it will fade away.”
Besides, there is a deeper background to the controversy: in addition to standing up against the Minister’s plan, locals are demanding that the promise to upgrade the zoo, in particular to see the increase in number of animals, is respected. This promise was a condition of the transfer of the land lease to Tay Zay’s Htoo Group of Companies in 2011.
Special Tourist Currency
Last but not least, Burma’s Parliament has endorsed a presidential decision to abandon the use of the special tourist currency (Foreign Exchange Certificates) introduced in 1993 “in an effort to stop tourists from exchanging currency on the black market.” It was mandatory until 2003 for tourists to buy at least $200 worth.
Have all a good week!
Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #33,