10 Facts about Life Expectancy in Myanmar
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia nestled between India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. While it is currently transitioning from a military government to a democracy, the following are 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Myanmar

  1. Myanmar’s Life Expectancy: For the first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar, the average life expectancy in Myanmar is 66.96 years. For males, the average is 65 years and for females, it is 69 years. Steadily rising since 1950, the average life expectancy was once 33.63 years. By 1990, life expectancy slowed as it only reached 56.65 years and did not exceed 60 years until 2001. Based on data collected by the United Nations, Myanmar is not projected to have an average life expectancy exceeding 70 years until almost 2040.
  2. Other Countries’ Life Expectancies: Myanmar’s life expectancy is lower than most of its neighbors. Compared to surrounding countries, such as China, Thailand, India and Bangladesh the average life expectancy ranges between 69 and 77 years. However, Myanmar has a relatively similar life expectancy to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, which is at 67.27 years. This could be due to Myanmar’s changing government and tumultuous internal conflict. Unlike its neighbors, Myanmar has engaged in a civil war since it broke from British rule in 1948. In fact, it is the world’s longest ongoing civil war.
  3. Myanmar’s Internal Conflict: These disparities in life expectancies between Myanmar and other Asian countries could be due to its internal conflict. In Myanmar, there is a constant struggle for power in the government with the military primarily seizing control and ending rebellions since the country gained independence in 1948. Among this political struggle is an ethnic one; the Buddhist population (which makes up 90 percent of Myanmar’s total population) targets minority religious groups, specifically the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group. While there have always been tensions between ethnic groups in Myanmar, violence did not escalate until 2016. Thousands of Rohingya are fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh because of persecution, extreme violence and borderline ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s security forces. People do not know much about the death toll in Myanmar but BBC reports that the violence resulted in the killings of at least 6,700 Rohingya a month after violence broke out in August 2017. People burned at least 288 Rohingya villages since then and nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. Myanmar’s rapid population decline and lowered life expectancy may be due to either genocide or the fleeing of many of its civilians.
  4. Rising Life Expectancy: Despite the ongoing civil war in Myanmar, life expectancy is rising. One of the greatest links to health and life expectancy is the standard of living. According to a study by the World Bank, “the proportion of the population living under the national poverty line halved from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017.” More people are now able to afford health care and medical treatments, allowing for the rise in life expectancies. Additionally, as poverty declines, the Myanmar government is devoting more resources to improving health care. Myanmar has specifically targeted malaria. In a study by the World Health Organization, in Myanmar, “malaria morbidity and mortality has declined by 77 percent and 95 percent respectively by 2016 compared to 2012. The country is moving forward as per the National Strategic Plan aiming for malaria elimination by 2030.” By abiding by the National Strategic Plan, Myanmar was able to successfully reduce malaria in the country and boost life expectancy.
  5.  Reducing Poverty: Myanmar and various international powers are making efforts to reduce poverty in the country. In April 2017, the World Bank approved a $200 million credit for a First Macroeconomic Stability and Fiscal Resilience Development Policy Operation. The purpose of this is to help Myanmar achieve economic stability and reduce poverty. It would also allow greater access to public services, such as electricity and health care resources. In addition, China agreed to assist in reducing poverty in rural areas of Myanmar in February 2018. Rural Myanmar has higher poverty rates than in urban centers (38.8 percent compared to 14.5 percent in towns and cities). The project from China includes infrastructure development and vocational training, which will implement better roads and agricultural techniques. With these efforts, poverty is in decline and quality of life rises, allowing for people to live better and longer lives.
  6. Access to Electricity: People across Myanmar are gaining access to electricity. According to the World Bank, 69.815 percent of the population had access to electricity in 2017, as opposed to 55.6 percent in 2016. In 2015, both the government of Myanmar and the World Bank developed a National Electrification Plan that will achieve universal electricity by 2030. To do this, the World Bank has given Myanmar a $400 million credit to launch this plan throughout the country. Myanmar has already exceeded the goals set in 2015. One goal was to have 1.7 million households connected to electricity by 2020. Currently, 4.5 million households have electricity. Because of this and the decline of poverty, more households can obtain home appliances as well as other consumer goods like cell phones and computers. While these are not direct causes of rising life expectancy, they do indicate that people in Myanmar are gaining a better quality of life, which can attribute to living longer lives.
  7.  Health Care: Myanmar consistently ranks among the worst health care in the world. Myanmar citizens pay for most health care resources out of pocket. Only 600,000 of 53.7 million people in Myanmar have health insurance, the Social Security Scheme. There are shortages across the country in human resources for health. There are only 61 doctors per every 100,000 people in Myanmar. There are not many medical schools available and therefore a lack of other health professionals like pharmacists, technicians and bioengineers. Many of the current doctors in Myanmar feel overworked and burnt out of the profession. The lack of many resources can contribute to lower life expectancies.
  8. Leading Causes of Death: Without access to health care, diseases become the leading cause of death in Myanmar. Non-communicable diseases cause 68 percent of deaths in Myanmar. COPD, stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are some of the leading causes of death in Myanmar. However, preventable diseases are in decline. Tuberculosis, HIV and lower respiratory infections have decreased as leading causes of death. Even though access to health care is limited, the quality has improved overall, allowing for people to fight off these infections and live longer.
  9. Improving Health Care: The Myanmar government is slowly improving health care. Unfortunately, government spending on health care is one of the lowest in the world at 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, studies by the World Bank shows that this percentage has increased over time. In 2011, the Myanmar government only spent 1.687 percent of its GDP on health care, the year Myanmar began its transition to democracy. Since 2013, Myanmar began to implement more policies devoted to national health care. The government went from spending 2.11 percent on health care in 2013 to 5.03 percent in 2014, making health care more affordable and available for mothers and children. Myanmar also reduced the number of medical students to ensure a better quality of education. The severe lack of government investment in health care makes health resources difficult to access by the population, which one can attribute to the lower life expectancies, but it is clear that Myanmar is taking steps in the right direction.
  10. International Support for Health Care: There is a lot of international support for health care in Myanmar. Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) has worked with Myanmar since 1995 and has helped improve community health services. It also provides women valuable information on sexual and reproductive health. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency has also worked on special projects in Myanmar since 2000, most notably creating a standard for sign language and providing teachers. Additionally, the World Health Organization has also worked with the Myanmar government to set goals for their health care. The WHO assisted in drawing up Myanmar’s Health Vision 2030. Further, the World Bank provided a $200 million loan to Myanmar for an Essential Package of Health Services. Much of the international support is at local levels; it is up to the Myanmar government to provide support across the entire country.

As evidenced by the 10 facts about life expectancy in Myanmar, several circumstances could be contributing to the lower life expectancy of the country. However, despite the long and winding path ahead, it is clear that life expectancy is rising as living conditions continue to slowly improve. 

– Emily Young
Photo: Pixabay

tourism in Myanmar

Since 2011, tourism in Myanmar grew rapidly. One million tourists visited the country in 2011 and more than three million did in 2017. The Tourism Master Plan 2013-2020 came to life to develop Myanmar’s tourism industry, create jobs and attract more international tourists. Hilton and Best Western are investors in Myanmar and foreign investment in Myanmar’s hotel and tourism industry amounted to $2.6 billion in 2017.

Tourism Master Plan

There are six strategy programs in Myanmar’s Tourism Master Plan. The strategies involve strengthening the institutional environment, building human resource capacity and promoting service quality, strengthening safeguards and procedures for destination planning and management, developing quality products and services, improving connectivity and tourism-related infrastructure and building the image, position and brand of Tourism Myanmar.

The Master Plan set a high target of attracting 3.01 million international visitors in 2015 and 7.48 million in 2020. Myanmar surpassed its goal in 2015 by attracting 4.6 million international visitors. More than 500,000 tourists arrived from Thailand and China in 2018.

An estimated 804,000 jobs in 2016 were from the travel and tourism sectors. In 2012, before the plan was enacted, there were 293,000 tourism-related jobs. Investment in the industry creates employment for those seeking to exit poverty, as unskilled workers in rural areas now have opportunities for employment in the developing tourism industry. About 40 percent of the poor reside in rural regions. Poverty reduced from 48 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2019. Part of this huge decrease in poverty is due to growing industries such as tourism.

Foreign Investors

Myanmar’s tourism and hotel sector received $2.6 billion in 2017 from foreign investors, which indicated increased interest relating to tourism in Myanmar. The main investor was Singapore, which is on Myanmar’s list of its top ten tourists by nationality. A $63 million venture between Myanmar’s KMA Hotel Group and Thailand’s Centara Hotels and Resorts to develop a hotel chain is one direct flow into the industry. Many other projects were created to compensate for the tourism boom.

Training in Tourism

Since tourism in Myanmar increases exponentially, it is expanding educational programs to teach skills necessary for working in the tourism and travel industry. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism’s (MOHT) Tourism and Training School offers classes for tour guide training and tourism management. The MOHT also partnered with the Ministry of Education to offer a four-year degree in tourism at two colleges, the National Management Degree College in Yangon and Mandalar Degree College in Mandalay.

Almost 400 students earned a master’s degree in Tourism Studies and Management from Yangon University since its inception in 2015. The program accepts 60 students per year. The Hospitality Training School opened in 2016 and offers courses relating to housekeeping, front office and food and beverage.

Myanmar Tourism Bank

The Myanmar Tourism Bank opened in Yangon this year to provide long-term, long-cost loans to the tourism and hospitality sector. It is also the first bank in the country dedicated solely to the sector. It offers most services provided by commercial banks. The bank is yet another way Myanmar plans to stimulate investment in the tourism industry, particularly by smaller operators that desire to benefit from the rapid growth.

Growing Tourism Industry

Myanmar received 2.4 million visitors in the first five months of 2019, which is its strongest year since 2015. The current tourism boom shows promise for tourism in Myanmar. Job creation, increased GDP and reduced poverty are all positive effects of the growing tourism industry.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Response to the Rohingya CrisisIn Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims are the target of an ethnic cleansing campaign. Raging on since August 2017, the military-led offensive has caused the displacement of almost a million people, the destruction of at least 392 Rohingya villages and the internment of some 125,000 Rohingya in detention camps. While international authorities have placed pressure on the government to stop its atrocities, a recent update from the U.N.’s special rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, makes it clear that the situation is still dire. The U.S.’ response to the Rohingya crisis has been considerable, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done to ensure the safety of this vulnerable population.

A Coordinated Response in Bangladesh

Many Rohingya (745,000) have fled to the neighboring country of Bangladesh since the violence began. The Bangladesh government has cooperated with international bodies to ensure the reception and integration of these many refugees, but several challenges remain. For one, about 84 percent of the refugee population resides in a camp in the city of Cox’s Bazar; its location on the Bay of Bengal renders the area subject to monsoons and cyclones, which, combined with congested living conditions, increase the likelihood of death and disease. Additionally, many displaced women face sexual violence in both Myanmar and the refugee sites, and 12 percent of refugees experience acute malnutrition, creating an urgent need for adequate medical services.

In response to the Rohingya crisis, the United States has provided $450 million in aid to host communities in Bangladesh. The United States recently earmarked $105 million for the U.N.’s 2019 Joint Response Plan (JRP). This aid is important, as the JRP works to:

  • Register and document all refugees, so as to provide them with the legal standing to engage in economic activity and receive further state services in Bangladesh.
  • Improve disaster preparedness among refugee holding sites, which also entails creating an improved population density distribution.
  • Create crucial health programs, such as food vouchers and mental health services. These programs have been particularly successful—the level of acute malnutrition, while still high, is seven points lower than it was in 2018 and women’s access to reproductive health services is on the rise.

Further Steps Needed

In contributing to the U.N.’s JRP, the United States mitigates the negative effects of the Rohingya crisis. However, the political conditions in Myanmar that caused so many to flee remain, largely because the government continues to carry out atrocities against the Rohingya people. The leader of the country’s military, General Min Aung Hlaing, has directly authorized the ethnic cleansing campaigns. According to Refugees International, this has essentially allowed Myanmar soldiers to impose a reign of terror on Rohingya villages. The group has documented “consistent accounts of Myanmar soldiers surrounding villages, burning homes to the ground, stabbing, shooting, and raping the inhabitants, leaving the survivors to flee for their lives.”

Myanmar continues to block humanitarian relief organizations from entering the country, which is a roadblock preventing a thorough response to the Rohingya crisis. Moreover, the government continues to deny the existence of military campaigns, which allows perpetrators to avoid punishment.

The U.S. has worked to place pressure on the Myanmar government so as to create accountability checks and dissuade other leaders from taking similar adverse actions against the Rohingya. For example, on July 16, 2019, the Trump administration placed sanctions on a number of military officials, including General Min Aung Hlaing. Countries and organizations can do more to halt the violence, though. Both the special rapporteur and Refugees International have called upon the U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or to set up an independent tribunal, which could try those responsible for the Rohingya crisis. While the ICC prosecutor has already taken preliminary investigative steps, a U.N. Security Council referral or tribunal establishment would put even greater political pressure on Myanmar.

Moving Forward

While the Rohingya crisis was years in the making, its impact has been especially acute in the past two years. The U.S.’ response to the Rohingya crisis has included successful collaboration with the U.N., and raised hopes of bringing the perpetrators to justice. In so doing, it will save countless lives and move the Rohingya community in Myanmar one step closer to protection.

– James Delegal
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tourism in Myanmar
Tourism in Myanmar has become a concern following the recent Rohingya crisis. Tourists and tourism organizations are debating whether it is safe or ethical to travel to the nation. But beyond the political issues, it is clear that tourism can benefit Myanmar‘s communities. In order to ensure tourism will have a direct, positive impact on the people of Myanmar, it is crucial for the tourism industry to employ local Burmese. Additionally, tourists can educate themselves about what they can do to help improve the livelihoods people in the regions they are traveling to.

While many have considered a boycott of Myanmar due to the state’s violence toward the Rohingya, the benefits of tourism for local communities are too important to lose. Liddy Pleasant, the managing director of Stubborn Mule Travel, says avoiding tourist travel to Myanmar would have a “profound impact on local people.

As the problem itself is political, a boycott of tourism to Myanmar would likely only hurt local populations without affecting the country’s leadership. Furthermore, many primary tourist sites are located far from the areas where the persecutions of Rohingya are happening, meaning the tourism economy does not support these efforts. It also means that tourists should not feel unsafe traveling to Myanmar.

Boosting Tourism in Kayah State

Currently, most tourism in Myanmar is to six main regions: Bagan, Inle Lake, Yangon, Mandalay, Kyaikhto and Ngapali Beach. According to the International Trade Centre, expanding tourism to other regions of the nation could help those areas benefit economically. One target area is Kayah, a state in eastern Myanmar. As one of the poorest states in the country, ITC started working on increasing tourism in Kayah with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Union of Myanmar Travel Association, Myanmar Ministry of Commerce and Myanmar Tourism Marketing in 2014.

In building the tourism industry in Kayah, the main goal is to enrich local people and businesses. Working with a variety of Kayah’s residents — including the youth, the elderly and people from various ethnic backgrounds — companies have started offering cultural tours. The Kayah tourism sector primarily employs local residents as guides for cultural tourism. In particular, these companies offer opportunities for ethnic minorities, many of whom have recently returned to the country after being displaced.

Overall, the work in Kayah provides a model for how all tourism in Myanmar should develop, focusing on providing job opportunities, particularly in low-income areas. The project has had success in growing tourism to the region, with tourism increasing by 140 percent between 2014 and 2016. As the tourism sector in Kayah continues to grow, perhaps companies can extend similar efforts to other parts of Myanmar, thereby benefiting impoverished Burmese.

Tourist Considerations and Responsibilities

Ideally, all tourism sites would have a positive impact on the local population. Therefore, tourists need to make the effort to educate themselves on the areas they are traveling to if they want to support local communities and businesses.

One consideration is respect for the culture. Due to religious beliefs, men and women should dress appropriately while in Myanmar. This generally involves wearing pants and covering the shoulders and upper arms. It is also important to communicate with locals, asking them questions about their culture and trying to learn about their way of life.

If there are concerns about financially contributing to the government of Myanmar, the solution is to go local by shopping at markets, eating in local restaurants, hiring local tour guides and purchasing craft products made by local Burmese. This is the primary way that local communities benefit from tourism and can have a direct impact on the livelihoods of people tourists come into contact with.

Tourists should also take care not to contribute to the abundance of waste Littering is a huge problem caused by tourism in Myanmar. Garbage builds up on riverbanks, turning them into landfill sites. The nation is currently struggling to keep up with waste disposal. In general, minimize waste. In some cases, it may be better to take items back home with you and dispose of them safely.

Overall, the tourism sector in Myanmar needs to continue so the people of the country can economically benefit. Meanwhile, tourists can educate themselves about the political situation in Myanmar and decide for themselves whether they feel it is right to travel there. If they do, it is important to focus on supporting local communities and businesses to positively impact the livelihoods of many.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Myanmar

Child labor in Myanmar continues to be a concern for one of the poorest nations in Asia. It is estimated that 1.13 million children, ages 5 through 17 work as laborers in Myanmar. This amounts to 9.3 percent of the child population. Said conditions are a violation of human rights and deprivation of well being.

Impact of Poverty

The prime factor of involvement of children in the workforce is poverty. With more than 32 percent of the nation living below the national poverty line, children work to supplement low household incomes.

However, employers exploit children and pay extremely low rates. In some cases, children as young as 14, working in garment-producing factories, make as little as 17  cents per hour; Yet, the nation’s minimum wage is $3.60.

Government Involvement in Child Trafficking

In August 2017, it was estimated 690,000 people fled from Myanmar due to acts of violence caused by the Myanmar government. Of those, nearly 400,000 were children.

In Myanmar, there is an abundance of trafficking, with little to no intervention. Frequently, the displacement of young girls to China is due to trafficking, for work, or marriage to Chinese men as child brides.

Additionally, Myanmar also has the highest number of child soldiers globally. In these cases, young boys against their will have to comply with captor commands. These commands are in sync with militarization goals and tactics.

Impact of Child Labor

One prominent consequence of child labor in Myanmar is the lack of education among children. One in five children drops out of school in order to work. In Myanmar culture, it is socially acceptable and common to see children working, rather than in school. Also, children who are in the workforce usually have little awareness, nor education about their safety and health rights in the workplace, leading to a high risk of fatal injuries.

The agricultural industry employs 60.5 percent of children in the workforce. Construction and fellow small-scale industries also have a significant role in employing child laborers. Just over half of these children perform potentially hazardous work that is likely to harm their physical or psychological health. Children as young as 15 to 17 make up 74.6 percent of the child workforce exposed to hazardous jobs.

The Intervention of Child Trafficking in Myanmar

Although child labor in Myanmar is widespread, the government of Myanmar is addressing this issue with the support of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The Myanmar Program on the Elimination of Child Labor Project was a four-year program (2013-2017) funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, overseen by the ILO. The goals of this project were to increase awareness of children in the workforce while improving the legal and institutional laws concerning child labor.

The Myanmar government ratified the ILO Convention No.182 which prohibits the worst forms of childhood labor and is in the process of finalizing the country’s first National Action Plan. This proposal outlines ways to reduce child labor in Myanmar while improving the lives of the children all together.

Child labor in Myanmar is a prominent issue as it affects millions of lives. There is, however, a reason to be optimistic, as the Myanmar government and fellow organizations have begun prevention protocols, ensuring a better future for the children of Myanmar.

– Marissa Pekular

 

Photo: Flickr

Girl Determined Promotes LeadershipA program called Girl Determined promotes leadership among adolescent girls through a multi-faceted, engaged approach. In Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, it is common for young girls to grow up wishing they had been born boys. Despite progress and distribution of equal rights in developed nations, women and girls living in Myanmar still face extreme oppression today. Unfortunately, they continue to fight for some of their most basic human rights.

Women and girls regularly face issues such as gender inequality, violent relationships and extreme prejudice. 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that 21 percent of women had reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence from their partner. Researchers even believe that, given the authoritarian-style government in Myanmar, the real number is actually much higher.

Part of the problem is that girls between the ages of 12 and 17 lack the confidence and empowerment needed to speak up for their rights. In a nation where females are born into the expectation that they will remain subdued, gaining the courage to challenge the norm can be difficult. Girl Determined is working to change that.

The Program

The program is structured primarily around Circles. Circles are weekly after-school peer groups that provide young girls with a place to share their experiences and learn from one another. Currently, more than 2,000 girls across Myanmar participate in Circles. The meetings follow a curriculum that addresses five categories:

  1. Decision-making
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Building friendships
  4. Understanding cultural and religious differences
  5. Girls’ rights and planning for one’s future.

During the group sessions, topics can range from universal experiences among adolescents, like puberty and chore lists, to challenges exclusive to the female Myanmar community. For example, shared fears concerning the risk of sex trafficking, lack of education and violence witnessed in war.

To provide support for Circles, Girl Determined hosts an annual Girls’ Leadership summer camp, a Girls’ Conference and a number of athletic programs and campaigns. They are encouraged to keep a journal, plant seeds and participate in team sports. All of these opportunities are designed to put girls at center stage. Furthermore, the program intends to create an outlet to advocate for issues that inherently affect them.

The Impact

Through something as simple as open discussion and encouragement, participants are paving a brighter future for girls in Myanmar. Adolescent girls have become a marginalized group after decades of being taught to follow cultural norms and remain silent. Girl Determined promotes leadership, while also functioning as a platform for real change. Many of the girls who have participated in the program say it taught them to speak up, specifically against gender-based violence and has mobilized them to spark change in their communities.

In 2013, over 800 participants gathered for a conference in Rangoon to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Teenagers from Girl Determined advocated for policy change in the social welfare department. The local news even covered their statement. Since their statement, women’s organizations working closely with the government have implemented protection for girls into Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.

The Circles program is entirely voluntary, so the program measures its overall success is by retention of attendance. Across various project sites in Myanmar, attendance averages at 90 percent. Overall, this speaks to the power in how Girl Determined promotes leadership among young women.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Myanmar
Myanmar is currently in the middle of a challenging transition to democracy amid ongoing human rights violations. With 32 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Myanmar is considered one of the most underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Myanmar.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Myanmar

  1. Energy. As of 2017, over 25 percent of all households in Myanmar use solar energy to power their homes. From 2015 to 2017 the number of households with electricity access — solar and otherwise — increased by 1.1 million, which accounts for about 2 percent of the population. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, to this day, more than 60 percent of households in villages are still not connected to the public grid.
  2. Water. Most areas of Myanmar have abundant rainfall, but some residents still need to transport water from the source to where they live, increasing the risk of contamination. In the Rakhine state, the floods from the 2015 cyclone have damaged access to clean water for 78 percent of villages. However, efforts by PLAN International to clean ponds and build rainwater catchment systems are underway to provide relief.
  3. Education. Literacy rates in Myanmar are now promisingly high at 80 to 90 percent depending on the state. The gender gaps in literacy have also closed and high school enrollment rates have doubled over the last decade. In the same time period, middle school enrollment rates have also risen 20 percent.
  4. Employment. The number of people working in Myanmar has been on the rise, as well as the percentage of households earning income from non-agricultural work. In particular, the number of women employed in Myanmar has increased by over 5 percent in the last decade.
  5. Housing. Housing materials vary greatly due to accessibility to resources, geographic and socioeconomic reasons. According to the World Bank, “eight in 10 households had a quality roof in 2017, compared to four in ten in 2005.” Newly found accessibility to quality roofing materials like corrugated iron has lead to this increase.
  6. Freedom of Expression. When Myanmar’s newly elected government, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took office in 2016 hopes were high for long-awaited law reform. However, under the NLD freedom of expression is still being regularly repressed and restricted with large numbers of peaceful activists, critics and journalists being prosecuted.
  7. Technology. Smartphones have seen the most rapid growth of any consumer good in the past decade and are the most commonly used technology in Myanmar. The majority of households in Myanmar do not own or use a computer, with 10.9 percent being by far the highest ownership rate (in the city of Yangon).
  8. Sanitation. When it comes to sanitation there are again large differences between rural and city areas when it comes to accessibility. For example, only half of all homes in Rakhine have a toilet whereas, in the rest of the country, 94 percent of people have a toilet in their home. PLAN International helps by providing basic sanitation needs and teaching the importance of things like washing hands to stop the spread of diseases.
  9. Refugees. Since 2017, mass killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine have forced over 900,000 Rohingya to flee human rights violations. However, these refugees are now trapped in refugee camps in Bangladesh facing monsoons and flooding seasonally. Out of all Rohingya refugees, 55 percent are children. Due to intensely cramped living conditions, diseases spread rapidly and sanitation facilities are lacking. Sexual violence also remains to be a pressing issue in the camps, in addition to psychosocial suffering. U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations are providing assistance with food, water and shelter. Additionally, organizations provide psychosocial aid, health and sanitation services when possible.
  10. Child Protection. Due to economic problems and violent government instability, there are currently over 460,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance. Organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children are working to provide psychosocial support as well as other nutrition, and sanitation based support to thousands of children. UNICEF’s WASH team is working to provide clean water, access to toilets as well as promoting the importance of handwashing in order to help with basic health and sanitation needs. Access to these three aspects (clean water, toilets and hygiene services) all together help support one another to alleviate the risk of disease in struggling areas.

The current situation in Myanmar is very complicated and clearly presents some challenges to mend the gaps between living conditions in rural versus city areas.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters and Impoverished Countries
Just when one might think that impoverished people are facing enough difficulties, they become enlightened about other tragedies that make life more dismal for these people. According to Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, there is an overlap between countries already facing extreme poverty and countries that are more likely to be devastated by natural disasters.

Fortunately enough, this combination has occurred before so future governments and organizations will know what to do when such tragedies strike again. Countries have recovered. There is hope that these other countries will not face travesty forever. In the text below, some cases of natural disasters and impoverished countries who were able to recover are presented.

Myanmar

In 2008, Myanmar was struck by Cyclone Nargis that left a total of 138,000 people either dead or missing. Cyclones are not the only natural disaster that Myanmar is prone to. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, tsunamis and landslides also affect the country. Since 2012, climate change has affected the country greatly.

The organization Give2Asia has been present in Myanmar in previous years. Give2Asia is a network of charitable communities from over 25 countries throughout the continent. Their work in the country consists of breaking down the components that affect Myanmar’s economy and people the most and improving the situation in these fields.

The population most affected by natural disasters are the urban and rural poor, the agriculture population and communities that live on the coasts. The Give2Asia states that poverty is both the cause and result of natural disasters. Majority of the population depends on agriculture and fishing livelihoods to survive, so when a natural disaster hits and destroys all of their hard work, it is understandable that this cycle continues.

Because of this, many nongovernmental organizations and the Myanmar government began implementing disaster and risk reduction measures. Some of the measures are as following: early warning systems, adapting agriculture to climate change and creating disaster-proof buildings.

An example of an organization that has helped Myanmar in the past is Ar Yone Oo (AYO), that was put together shortly after Cyclone Nargis. The group targeted vulnerable and poor areas of Myanmar that were affected. After helping in the aftermath of Nargis, the group stressed the importance of implementing educational programs in poor communities aimed at learning these people what to do in the face of disaster. AYO was able to increase emergency preparedness in two townships as well as the entire Chin state of Myanmar.

Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004

The tsunami of 2004 affected 10 countries in South Asia. The death toll was over 200,000, over a million people were injured, and tens of millions of people were displaced. Relief Web calls this natural disaster “the single biggest challenge ever faced” by international aid, especially from nongovernmental organizations. This tsunami was an example of how natural disasters and impoverished countries are often connected.

Australian nongovernmental organizations and aid were able to prevent the suspected second wave of death, usually caused by disease, due to their quick response time and ability to provide clean water to the injured. By June 2005, Australia had committed and spent around $34 million on disaster relief in Indonesia alone. Australian organizations such as the Australian sectors of Red Cross, CARE, Caritas, Oxfam and World Vision were all publicly funded by the country and gave further aid to the affected countries. Due to this grand effort by just one continent, reconstruction was possible. The organizations consulted local communities on how they wanted to be restored so that the communities could build back better.

Work of the Indonesian Government

The Indonesian government also valued community input, which was a bold step at the time. Because they prioritized what the people wanted, they were able to create jobs and homes for the community and lessen the poverty rate. The government created programs that aimed to provide the best recovery for the whole population.

The Indonesian Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (also called BRR in the country) was a group that worked for four years to rebuild Indonesia, specifically Aceh. During this time, the organization constructed over 140,000 houses, 4,000 kilometers of roads, 1,700 schools, 1,100 health facilities and 13 airports. Not only that, but the organization provided jobs for 40,000 teachers and gave out 7,000 fishing boats. Through caring for the livelihoods in the communities, this and other organizations were able to help these countries recover.

These stories are important to remember when looking to the future of disaster recovery and how to help already impoverished countries. By looking at the correlation between natural disasters and impoverished countries, and seeing what can be done to prevent total devastation, the terrifying future of repeated natural disasters might not be as bad predicted. Other countries can learn from the nongovernmental organizations in these cases, as well as Australia’s incredible effort.

– Miranda Garbaciak
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Radio Naf
At the start of 2017, the refugees of Rohingya fled in the thousands from Myanmar. Today, many of their lives are still in disarray as they search for family, look for new homes and deal with the trauma from the violence that drove them out of their country.

Rohingya refugees often lack the information to take the next steps towards these goals. The use of media within camps has been vital to dealing with the emergency and keeping refugees connected with each other and the outside world, so Rohingya refugee media has been given a new voice: Radio NAF.

Radio NAF: A Voice for the Voiceless

In times of crisis like this one, access to information is almost as vital as food, shelter, and water. Local media can and has been used as a platform to update refugees on the status of their hometowns, educate them on sanitary practices and guide them toward necessary resources. Moreover, media has been used as a platform for refugees to voice their experiences and call the rest of the world to action.

Radio NAF is a community-based radio station in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. The station serves the rural and underserved communities in the region, which also happens to be home to the largest Rohingya refugee settlement, Kutupalong. The station interviews refugees and discusses the issues that affect them.

Due to the poor radio reception in these areas, all of the shows are prerecorded and brought to the communities through seven “listener clubs.” While the population in the settlement has declined slightly, listenership and attendance have risen, indicating that this is an invaluable source of information for those that come to and remain at the settlement.

But, another reason for the influx in attendance could also be the station’s ability to provide a voice to the voiceless. The station’s interviews allow individuals and groups in the settlements to make statements and send messages that reach far beyond the Rohingya refugee community. Its programs also tackle important issues like violence against women, and it also provides entertainment of the children in among the refugee, who comprise more than half of the population.

British Broadcast Corporation Media Action

Radio Naf is backed by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC). BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, has worked in conjunction with local Radio Naf employees—some of whom are refugees themselves—to analyze the issues and needs of the Rohingya refugees as told by the Rohingya refugees themselves.

The charity focuses its efforts on alleviating these specific problems, but it also shares all of its information with the United Nations, NGOs and governments working to mitigate the crisis. Through Rohingya refugee media, the people have the ability to make their voices thoroughly heard and get the message out to these organizations for swift and proper actions.

BBC backed Radio Naf has uncovered sanitary, financial, linguistic and logistic issues that continue to persist in the Rohingya refugee camps while sharing crucial necessities and calls to action to key players in the relief, which has been the focus of Radio Naf and its interviews. But, in order to bring about progress, this hope must be met with an eagerness to hear their voices and act on those issues.

Rohingya refugee media is an essential component to connecting refugees and working to alleviate some of the pain and misfortune that they have lived through. It has developed a platform for the spread of hope. This hope, after even a year into the crisis, echoes from community to community, from settlement to settlement.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr