The Arakan Human Rights and Development Organisation (AHRDO) is a non-profit, independent organisation formed on October 9, 2011. AHRDO is open for membership to all Arakanese people, regardless of their sex, colour, religion, or political affiliation, and works for the common good of the entire Arakanese population.
No.3, 4th Floor, Tha Yak Taw Street, San Chaung Township, Yangon
Yangon
Yangon
Myanmar
Phone: +959 3615 5434 Phone: +959 4931 1108
Tue, November 21, 2017

Language: English Burmese

Modern day Arakan State

Today, the state's 4 million inhabitants are primarily of Rakhaing ethnic origin. Most of these people live in rural areas and make a living from sustenance farming and fishing. The region benefits from a wealth of natural resources from its ancient forests, bountiful ocean and fertile plains. The state is divided into five districts, Sitetway (Sittwe), Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Kyaukphru and Thandway, which are then divided into 17 townships. Within these townships there are a total of 1,164 village tracts.

 

ModernDayArakanThe state capital is Sitetway in Sitetway district, traditionally known as Akyab, and has an estimated population of 350,000. It is situated on the Bay of Bengal on an estuarial island at the convergence of the Kaladan, Laymro and Mayu rivers, surrounded by fertile land. The city grew significantly during the British colonial era when it was a very important commercial town, a centre for imports and exports, especially rice.

 

The modern socioeconomics of Arakan State can be largely characterised by an extreme lack of development. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) figures from June 2007 found that only 41% of the state's inhabitants had sustainable access to improved water, while a mere 36% had sustainable access to improved sanitation. These figures ranked the state lowest and second lowest respectively when compared with Burma's other states and divisions. The same study also showed that Arakan State ranked lowest and second lowest for its primary school enrollment rate and young adult literacy level, respectively. At the same time, the unemployment rate of 15-24 year olds was highest in the country, at just over 11%.

 

The large majority of Arakan State's inhabitants live in rural areas. These people make a living from fishing and farming and rely heavily on the use of rivers for both. In addition to important fish stocks in the ocean, local populations get much of their food from these rivers and their tributaries. Furthermore, over 85 % of Arakan State's cultivated farmland (primarily paddy) is located along their valleys – two of the few large flat areas in the region. Due to a lack of good roads, the trade of both fish and agricultural products in the region is dependent on the use of waterways.

 

Throughout its history, Arakan has been largely reliant on agriculture, predominantly the production of rice. In fact, the area is one of Burma's two main rice-producing regions, along with the Irrawaddy Delta. Since Burma's first coup d'état rice production industry has been manipulated by the authorities to benefit the powerful and wealthy military. The majority of profits made from farming and fishing go straight into the hands of the government, funding further military expansion and fuelling more human rights abuses, while millions of workers and people live in extreme poverty.

Traditional Culture

Arakan has a rich traditional culture, largely characterised in its literature, music, dance and religious buildings. Evidence of early literature can be found in the region dating back to first century AD. It is believed that Rakha Wanna (Arakanese alphabet) evolved from the Brahmin languages of Northern India.

 

Traditional cultureArakan, the land of the great image, traditionally professes Theravada Buddhism. Almost 100% of the Arakanese are Buddhists and the religion is an important element of Arakanese nationality. It is believed that the Arakanese have been learning the teachings of Buddhism since Gautama Buddha visited Arakan during the reign of King Sanda Surira in the 6th century BC. There are hundreds of ancient pagodas, temples and shrines in Arakan State to this day, especially in the old capital, Mrauk-U.

 

The most famous of these works is the Mahamuni Buddha Image that is now in Mandalay in central Burma. The Buddha statue was taken from Kyauktaw Township in 1784 by King Bodawpaya as one of many spoils of war. It is 4 metres high, and the statue is made of bronze, weighing 6.5 tones. Archaeologists believe the image was probably cast during the reign of King Chandra Surya, who ascended the throne in AD 146, some 600 years after the Buddha actually passed away.

The Climate and Natural Resources of Arakan State

Climate and Natural ResourcesArakan State lies directly in the path of the southwest monsoon and is covered with evergreen forests due to the substantial amount of rainfall it receives. There are three seasons in general; summer lasts from March until the end of May, with average high temperatures around 100° F. Annual rainfall is typically 160 to 200 inches.
Arakan is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Its economy is mainly agriculture and resource-based. The main agricultural product is rice and paddy. The export of forest and timber products such as teak, hardwood, softwood, ply-wood, bamboo, cane, etc., and sea products like shrimp, turtles, crabs, dried fish, canned fish, and salt also contributes significantly to the economy of Arakan. Large deposits of petroleum, natural gas and uranium can be found both inland and offshore; commercially exploitable deposits of silver, wolfram, zinc, platinum, lead, copper and precious stones such as sapphires are thought to exist in Arakan State. Limestone and marble, quarried in the Arakan Roma mountains, are also important exports. Waterfalls like that at Sai Dun (Sai Din) offer the prospect of an inexhaustible supply of electricity via hydropower. The bamboo forests in the Arakan Roma are capable of produce the best qualified pulp and paper products.

Socioeconomic conditions

Arakan State has undergone massive socioeconomic changes over the past 50 years, especially since the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took power in 1988. It is worth noting that none of these changes have taken place with the consent of the Arakanese people, as Burma continues to be denied the democratic freedoms of expression, choice, and political participation during the rule of the oppressive Burmese military regimes.

 

FarmersThe large majority of Arakan State's estimated 4 million inhabitants live in rural areas. These people make a living from fishing and farming, and rely heavily on the Kaladan and Laymro rivers for both. Locals get much of their food from these rivers and their tributaries – and, in coastal communities, from the ocean. Over 85 % of Arakan State's cultivated farmland (primarily paddy) is located along the Kaladan and Laymro river valleys. Due to a lack of good roads, the trade of both fish and agricultural products in the region is dependent on the use of these waterways.

 

Throughout its over 5000-year history, Arakan State has been largely reliant on agriculture, predominantly the production of rice. In fact, the area is one of Burma's two main rice producing regions, along with the Irrawaddy Delta. Since Burma's first coup d'état, the rice industry has been constantly interfered with by the authorities, to benefit the military as well as the powerful and wealthy.

 

Under current policies, farmers who once engaged in subsistence farming and sold any surplus to local villages are now forced to harvest crops at two or three times the traditional rate. They can only accomplish this by using excessive amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, which then significantly degrade soil quality. Farmers are then required to sell most of their yield to authorities at sub-market rates, and in many cases provide it for free to the military; crops are then sold to countries such as India and Bangladesh at the standard international rate.

 

A small amount of the rice produced does continue to be sold locally by independent farmers; however, these small entrepreneurs are subject to extortionate unofficial "taxes" enforced by military personnel in the area. Roadblocks are set up along transportation routes by soldiers who require passing traders to pay them in cash, gasoline or produce (usually rice). Those who do not or cannot pay risk beatings or even torture for refusing to comply with military demands. The navy has established a very similar system of checkpoints on the rivers; many civilian-owned boats have been destroyed at these points for failing to pay the 'tax'. The prevalence of military extortion means that many civilian landowners, even those in possession of hundreds of acres, live in poverty by international standards. It also means that the majority of profits made from farming and fishing go straight into the hands of the government, supporting further military expansion and contributing to the continuous human rights abuses.

 

Many so-called "development" projects in recent years have inflicted unprecedented damage on the lives of civilians in Arakan State. These projects include the Sitetway – Rangoon Highway, the Sitetway – Ann- Minbu Railway, logging in the Arakan Roma Mountains, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility, the Shwe Gas Project, and numerous hydropower facilities.

Such projects create a long list of problems including such human rights abuses as forced labour and forced relocation, as well as the destruction of natural environments and archaeological and cultural sites. The ongoing destruction of the Laymro and Kaladan rivers in the execution of such projects has severely affected the lives of thousands of civilians who survive on fish from these rivers and rice grown in their valleys. These developments have been implemented with total disregard for local people's livelihoods, while increasing and entrenching the military regime's power and yielding large profits for state-run companies. (link to development projects page)

 

Another important development is that Arakan has become increasingly militarized in recent years; this has occurred largely to secure the land, materials, and construction operations for the above-mentioned development projects. Between 1988 and 2006 the number of infantry battalions based in the Western Command, an area that includes Arakan State and Paletwa Township of Chin State, has increased from 3 to 43 battalions. There are a further ten specialized battalions (such as engineering and communications), three tactical command centres, and three navy bases. The Western Commander, headquartered in the town of Ann in Arakan State, controls many of the lucrative businesses in the state, as his permission is needed to secure most licenses and contracts. The correlative trend between development and increased military deployment, and its negative consequences for civilians, has been noted all over Burma.

 

As in other militarised zones of Burma, civilians in Arakan have experienced constant human rights violations and other mistreatment at the hands of soldiers who are able to act with almost total impunity. Numerous abuses have been documented including extortion, persecution, cruel and inhuman treatment, torture, extrajudicial killings and gang rape.

 

Arakan is presently one of Asia's least developed regions, and the Burmese military is actively perpetuating this underdevelopment. Opportunities for human development that will help the people, and not the military, are scarce; even the locals' traditional methods of survival are being denied to them as the military capitalises on the region's rivers and rice paddies.

Geography and political Status

Present-day Arakan (Rakhine) State is a crescent-like coastal region of Western Burma covering a total land area of about 20,000 square miles (52,000 square kilometres) and a state in Burma. It stretches from the Naff River in the North that marks its borders with Bangladesh (193 km) and India (30 km) to Cape Nagris in the South, which touches the Andaman Sea.
The north-south extension (latitudinal spread) of Arakan is 360 miles as the crow flies; in the Sitetway district, the cradle of Arakanese civilization, the spread is only approximately 160 miles. The east-west extension of the territory is even less: the widest part, spanning northern Arakan state from the Bay of Bengal to the crestline of the Arakan Roma mountains is about 100 miles. Further south, near Sandway, Arakan is only about 25 miles across. The coastal strip grows even narrower as it extends south, where it terminates in a point, known as Pagodas Point.

Old Arakan MapCurrent Arakan Map

It is important to note that Burman-occupied territory was demarcated from historical Arakan in the Randaboo Treaty, which was signed between two alien powers, the British colonial administration in India and the Burman expansionists, on February 24, 1826. The treaty awarded to the Burman kingdom some territory of present-day Arakan, plus the southernmost part of historical Arakan from the Kyauk-chwan River to Haigree (Haigyi) Island, Pagodas Point and Cape Nagris, as well as the Northern Arakan Hills that are the Paletwa district today. The total area of the lost territory was 21,694 square miles.
After the southernmost portion of the Bessein administration was partitioned by the British in 1853, the area of Arakan was further reduced to 18,945 square miles. Again after 1952, the Northern Arakan Hills of the Paletwa district were separated from Arakan and renamed the Chin Hills by the Burman-dominated government of post-Independence Burma. The area of modern Arakan State, which borders Chin State and Bangladesh in the north and Magwe Division in the east, and faces the Bay of Bengal in the west is 14,200 square miles.
With approximately four million inhabitants, Arakan State accounts for about 6 % of the total population of Burma. Situated on the Bay of Bengal, it benefits from the natural resources yielded by the sea, its forests, and the fertile Kaladan and Laymro River valleys. Most people in Arakan engage in rice farming and fishing, which are at the foundation of both their daily struggle for survival and their cultural identity. The state is divided into 5 districts and 17 townships, 3 sub-townships, 20 towns, 132 quarters, 1,040 village-tracts and 3,861 villages. The capital city, Sitetway (Sittwe), known also as Akyab, has a population of approximately 350,000 and is located on an estuarial island at the confluence of the Kaladan, Laymro, and Mayu rivers.

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