Thursday, September 21, 2017

Migrants move on as artisan oil fields run dry

Thousands of migrant workers are moving away from the once-crowded artisan oil fields in Magwe Region as production falls, according to residents.

The once-booming economy in Minhla township is showing signs of slowing. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesThe once-booming economy in Minhla township is showing signs of slowing. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The productivity of small-scale mining businesses around Minhla township has been falling for more than a year, they said.

For the past decade people travelled to the area from far and wide, to pick a spot in the oil-rich region and pay a fee to landowners to dig in the hope of striking lucky.

But now the oil is in short supply, said Ko Han Moe, a migrant worker at Dahatpin oil well.

“Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who used to depend on the oil wells have moved to other places,” he said, adding that extraction rates across thousands of acres of land have been decreasing since the start of last month.

“Oil diggers and workers have left because their businesses are no longer successful here,” said U Myo Tint, a trader from Minhla. “The demand of buyers in the oil sector elsewhere is three or four times higher than demand in Minhla.”

As migrant workers move on, long-term residents of Minhla township say they are worried about the future of the local economy, which has depended heavily on the success of the oil wells.

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesPhoto: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

Beyond this, the economy has not had to develop. Living standards increased as oil production boomed, but the agriculture sector and transportation links are underdeveloped, and the roads in disrepair, said U Maung Thuang, a 65-year old resident of Minhla.

Daw Khin Myint from Htankaing village said in the past each household owned a motor vehicle. “We each had an extra vehicle for business but people now have to sell,” she said.

As oil productivity falls, residents say trade in the township is sluggish and businesspeople are losing money on their investments.

Goldsmith Ko Win Naing said he is worried that other businesses in Minhla will be affected as the oil wells become less popular and income from oil sales falls.

For now, he said, of hundreds of oil wells in Minhla, Htankaing, Nga Naung Mone and Dahatpin are still producing petrol and luring hopefuls to try their luck.

Translation by Thiri Min Htun