Despite calls from civil society groups for the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to stop providing technical assistance to Burma’s military junta, the ADB continues to support harmful projects in Burma through its role in coordinating and promoting the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) program.  From June 19-21, the ADB hosted the 14th GMS Ministerial Conference in Manila, Philippines. The ADB provided logistic and monetary support for representatives of Burma’s notoriously repressive military junta to participate in this regional conference along with delegates from China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In a recent letter to ERI, the ADB disclosed that over the past 2 years the ADB has supported around 70 delegates from Burma’s military junta to attend over 20 regional conferences and workshops, providing monetary support of an estimated $59,482 per year.

During the conference, chaired by a representative of Burma’s military junta, H.E. U Soe Tha, the Minister of National Planning and Economic Development, the ADB and government officials reviewed the progress in GMS plans and endorsed recommendations for the future of the GMS program. Among the recommendations endorsed was one calling for the ADB, as a catalyst and core supporter of the GMS program, to continue and broaden its coordinating and supporting role. Other recommendations included steps to promote private sector investment in the GMS development plan, which includes projects in Burma such as the East West Economic Corridor initiative.  This initiative includes the Asian Highway extension in Burma and the controversial Ta Sang Dam on the Salween River.[1]

In a recent press release, the ADB even highlighted the Asia Highway project as a recent major accomplishment of the GMS program.[2] However, it failed to mention that in carrying out construction of the Asia Highway in Burma local villagers have had to endure numerous human rights violations, including forced labor, land confiscation without compensation, and forced relocation.[3] To date there has been no social or environmental impact assessments conducted for the Burma section of the Asia Highway. Moreover, local communities living in the project area in Burma have never been consulted. 

The Asia Highway, while it promises to promote economic development along the route, will also adversely affect critical ecosystems and areas valued for their high biodiversity by fragmenting habitat. The road project will cut through several sensitive ecoregions, home to a large number of threatened and endangered species, and increase pressure on already badly fragmented habitat. Over the long-term, environmental degradation, if not addressed, will undermine the region’s environmental security and long-term socioeconomic development.

For more information on the ADB’s involvement in Burma, please see The ADB’s Legitimization of Burma’s Military Junta, and The East-West Economic Corridor.

For more on human rights abuses related to the Asia Highway in Burma read the recent Karen Human Rights Group report, see“Development by Decree: The politics of poverty and control in Karen State.

Click here to read the ADB’s response regarding their involvement in Burma.

Recent news articles on the ADB and Burma:
Asia Times: Capitalizing the Thai-Myanmar Border
IPS Asia Pacific: What to do with Burma?

[2] Asia Development Bank, “Mekong Countries Agree on Bridge Linking PRC to Bangkok,” Press Release, June, 21, 2007.

[3] Karen Human Rights Group, “Development by Decree: The politics and poverty and control in Karen State,” April 2007.