Photo Essay: Faces of Dawei, Faces of Change

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The Mekong Eye, Dawei, Myanmar

Dawei is a seaside community of less than 5,000 families, in one of the world’s least developed corners. Myanmar’s ever widening borders, however, have lured investments here on a scale beyond anything previously conceived within Southeast Asia.

The Dawei Special Economic Zone envisions nearly 200 square kilometers of industrial development, a deepsea port and associated road, rail and pipeline links to neighboring Thailand and beyond.

Photojournalist Taylor Weidman captures the faces of Dawei as they they contemplate what lies ahead. Will their fisheries and betel nut farms still provide viable livelihoods? Will new jobs be available to them and their children or be taken by more higher skilled prospects from outside? Will environmental controls be sufficient and sufficiently enforcement to protect the community, and the natural resources that now sustain it?

Not knowing what’s headed their way, much less able to comprehend the scale of transformation upon them, Weidman’s images capture a people awaiting the future with both excitement and apprehension of what’s to come.

Taylor Weidman lives in Northern Thailand. In August 2015 he traveled to Dawei with support from the Mekong Partnership for the Environment. As a regular assignment photographer for Getty Images, his work has appeared worldwide, including The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic and others.

BAWAR, BURMA - AUGUST 02: A Burmese fisherman works near a boat in his village near the planned Dawei SEZ on August 2, 2015 in Bawar Village, Burma. The controversial, multi-billion dollar Dawei special economic zone and deep sea port has been stuck in a quagmire for years, however, three-way meetings between Thailand, Myanmar, and Japan have pushed the project closer with an agreement to develop the first stage of construction expected this week. The plan is expected to displace thousands of local residents from at least five villages and local farmers and fishermen are worried that the massive project will negatively effect their livelihoods. (Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images)

Fisherman dries his nets in Bawar Village, near the Dawei SEZ.

 

Burmese women start their bikes during a heavy rainstorm outside a market in the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

Women prepare to leave a market in Nabule, a village inside the boundaries of the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

 

Students look out the window of their classroom in a village inside the planned Dawei SEZ in Mudu.

Peering out their classroom window, it’s yet uncertain how well the this generation will be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities promised by the Dawei SEZ

 

Water buffalo graze in a field inside the planned Dawei SEZ. They almost disappeared from farm in neighboring Thailand due to increasing use of machinery.

Water buffalo graze in a field inside the planned Dawei SEZ. A site not uncommon in neighboring Thailand not long ago, but now tractors have largely replaced these beast of burden.

 

Near-identical structures have been built to house the residents of the five villages who will be displaced by the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

Fisherman displaced by construction at the Dawei SEZ in Nabule never occupied this resettlement village, preferring to seek out locations more suitable for continuing their livelihoods and lifestyles.

 

A Burmese woman rides her motorbike past KM 0, the beginning of the new road to the Thai border in Nabule.

A woman rides her motorbike past KM 0, marking the beginning of the new road from the Dawei SEZ in Nabule 160 kilometers to the Thai border.

 

A coal-burning power plant is used to power construction work inside the planned Dawei SEZ.

The coal-burning electricity plant built to power the Dawei SEZ construction effort.

 

A fisherman removes a crab from netting near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan near the planned deep sea port.

Crab is a major source of income for fisherman in Maungmagan, near the vicinity of the deep sea port planned for the Dawei SEZ

 

A monk stands in front of a monastery near the planned Dawei SEZ in Pantininn.

A monk stands in front of a monastery near the planned Dawei SEZ in Pantininn.

 

A woman sells merchandise in a market inside the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule. Her shop also displays cashew nuts, a famous product of Dawei.

Bags and boxes of cashew nuts, a renowned crop from local farmers, sit atop a counter at a market inside the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

 

Men play pool in a hall near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan.

Men play pool in a hall near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan.

 

A Burmese woman rests with her son in a seafood sorting area near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan.

A woman rests with her son in a seafood sorting area near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan.

 

Burmese men and women remove fish from netting near the planned Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan, Burma.

Removing fish from nets near the Dawei SEZ in Maungmagan, Burma.

 

Idle machinery sits inside a rock quarry used for the construction of the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

Idle machinery sits inside a rock quarry used for the construction of the planned Dawei SEZ in Nabule.

 

A Burmese man cuts a boy's hair in a fishing village near the planned Dawei SEZ.

Cutting a boy’s hair in a fishing village near the Dawei SEZ.

 

Construction workers try to fix a broken piece of equipment while working on the construction of a small, interim port inside the planned Dawei SEZ in Ngapitat.

Repairing equipment at the construction site of the interim port facility for the Dawei SEZ in Ngapitat.

 

These images were produced in collaboration with The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network, with full editorial control to the journalist and their outlet. All images are owned by and available for purchase from Getty Images