Bridg­ing the gap: Yangon's boom falls short across river

Yangon's boom falls short across river

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Su Myat Mon and Dene-Hern Chen

On her scruffy, down­trod­den bank of the river, teashopown­er Khin works just a few hun­dred me­tres across the muddy wa­ter from Yangon and dreams of the riches promised by a new bridge link­ing to Myan­mar's com­mer­cial heart.

"The quicker, the bet­ter," 58-year-old Khin Than Myint tells AFP of the con­struc­tion of the $168 mil­lion bridge, from her shop in Dala town­ship.

Span­ning the Yangon River, the project is due to be com­pleted in 2022, eas­ing the com­mute for thou­sands cross­ing the wa­ters by boat from ru­ral, un­der­de­vel­oped Dala. Cur­rently the sick some­times can­not even reach hospi­tal be­fore it is too late, Khin Than Myint says.

But with the bridge, "peo­ple will be able just to walk to Yangon," she says smil­ing. Res­i­dents of Dala have wit­nessed the changes over the river as for­eign in­vestors poured bil­lions of dol­lars into Yangon.

Five-star ho­tels and gleam­ing shop­ping malls, brim­ming with lux­ury brands, now punc­tu­ate the sky­line, com­pet­ing for space with Sh­wedagon Pagoda's golden spire. In Dala, goats wan­der be­tween rice pad­dies and res­i­dents ne­go­ti­ate pot­holed roads on fume-belch­ing mo­tor­bikes and tuk-tuks -- for­bid­den in down­town Yangon. A reg­u­lar ferry ser­vice and a fleet of small wooden boats have long been the only link be­tween the two worlds.

- Fu­ture riches? –

Af­ter nearly half a cen­tury of mil­i­tary rule, Myan­mar started open­ing up in 2011. Over the next seven years, Yangon at­tracted al­most half of the coun­try's for­eign in­vest­ment, some $25.8 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers.

While liv­ing stan­dards are im­prov­ing for many, a third of peo­ple lan­guish in poverty, in­fra­struc­ture re­mains patchy and much of the coun­try is af­fected by con­flict. Still Yangon's boom has brought jobs for many of Dala's res­i­dents too -- in­clud­ing the boat­men ma­noeu­vring ves­sels through the river's busy freight traf­fic.

Aung Myo Win has spent 14 years shut­tling peo­ple across the river and is torn about the new bridge. The 45-year-old knows it will likely leave him -- and dozens of oth­ers -- job­less, but he also sees the big­ger pic­ture.

"The bridge is for the peo­ple," he tells AFP at a jetty near the South Korean-funded con­struc­tion site. "We must sac­ri­fice our­selves for the sake of de­vel­op­ment."

Yangon's south­ern dis­tricts were his­tor­i­cally swamp­land, the rea­son the city grew north­wards away from the river, says David Ney, ur­ban spe­cial­ist at The Asia Foun­da­tion. "Dala was kind of put on the back­burner," he says.

But this now looks set to change. An enor­mous in­dus­trial zone span­ning the area south and west of the river, largely funded by money from Korea and China, is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

But some are wary about the re­al­i­ties of rapid de­vel­op­ment. Yangon taxi driver Chit Nyunt, 68, says on the north bank the rich have got richer, leav­ing the poor be­hind.

"Ris­ing costs of rent and food mean fam­i­lies can barely cover their costs," he says. In Dala, how­ever, Khin is pin­ning her hopes on the bridge.

"I want to build a nice house and I'll open a big­ger restau­rant and some shops -- just like in Yangon."

Photo: AFP

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