All along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, you will find oil fields. But these are not the oil fields of Texas, with enormous derricks reaching up to the sky, emblazoned with multinational company logos. Indeed, the giant petroleum companies are nowhere to be found in a country which only very recently opened itself up to the outside world. In the place of foreign prospectors, you will find a much more local phenomenon: thousands of people who drill for crude oil using crude means.
Drawing a parallel between Myanmar and Texas is not wholly outlandish. Besides the presence of oil, the two areas are almost identical in geographic size. But given that Myanmar has double the population of Texas, perhaps the fervor of this modern-day oil rush should come as no surprise. At any given moment, people from all over the country are gathered along the river, trying their luck at oil prospecting. People work around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While some diggers manage to get 5 barrels of petroleum a day, there are many more who only scrape and scratch into the earth in frustration. The locals used to grow crops on this land. But with the promise of wealth and of dizzying oil money, the plants were removed and destroyed to make way for the drills. In short, the people's relationship with their environment has shifted dramatically: what was once a long-term symbiosis has shifted in favor of short-term petrol dollars. Whatever can be squeezed out will be sold but who knows what will be left behind.
Editor's Note: Debasish Shom's photographs will be shown at the Angkor Photography Festival and Workshops, which will run from November 29 to December 6, 2014 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Keep an eye out for our weekly previews which will feature different parts of the Angkor Photography Festival's diverse and exciting program.