The highway being built between Dawei in south eastern Myanmar and the Thai border crossing of Phu Nam Ron, is destroying what is widely considered to be Southeast Asia’s last great wilderness. The reason for the highway is to connect the deep sea port in Dawei with Bangkok, which is situated only 350km away. When completed, the port is set to become the largest industrial zone in the region.

The road passes through disputed lands and checkpoints that are controlled by opposing forces; the Myanmar army and the Karen National Union army. A ceasefire is currently in place between the two, but it is nevertheless, a volatile situation. Roads scar landscapes and destroy natural habitats. Home to vanishing species such as tapirs, tigers, leopards, sun bears and elephants, the construction of the highway will expose untouched wildernesses to commercial development and slice the species corridor of movement in two. It will take many years to build, but its development is already having a destructive impact on the wildlife and communities that inhabit this bio diverse wilderness.

Deforestation along the road’s path is becoming widespread, implemented to make space for rubber plantations and for logging firms to extract timber for export. To build the highway, construction companies will dynamite, dig and cut into the mountains. By building roads, access will be opened up to this remote area; rivers and streams will become polluted, land grabbing and displacement will adversely affect communities and poaching will become more prevalent. The Dawei port project is highlighting the consequences faced by Myanmar, after opening up to the outside world. Economic development maybe, but at what cost to nature, wildlife and communities of the Tanintharyi region?

 Produced while on separate assignments for WWF US & WWF Myanmar