Transport Infrastructure in Myanmar
One way Myanmar is accelerating economic development, and therefore reducing poverty, is through investing in transport infrastructure. A major side effect of economic development is poverty reduction. Development often results in job growth, higher productivity and improved education. Myanmar, as well as other developing countries, noticed massive poverty reduction that followed economic growth. However, economic growth is not the only solution to reducing poverty. Despite the southeast Asian country reducing poverty from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017, poverty still affects one in four people. Myanmar is currently updating and adding roads in rural areas. Additionally, Myanmar is constructing bridges, highways and railways to increase transport between Thailand, an important trade partner.

Benefits of Investing in Transport Infrastructure

Based on the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 2016 Myanmar Transport Policy Note, the country needs about $60 billion in transport investments between 2016 and 2030 for transport infrastructure in Myanmar to be completely developed. Myanmar has approximately 20 million people who lack basic road access. Further, 60 percent of highways are in poor condition. The ADB also stated that Myanmar’s GDP could potentially increase to 13 percent or about $40 billion if transport infrastructure investments increased to 3 to 4 percent of the GDP. For reference, Myanmar spent about 1 to 1.5 percent of its GDP on transport infrastructure between 2005 and 2015.

Policy for Transport Infrastructure

As part of Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Policy 2018-30, transport infrastructure development is a prioritized area. The third goal in the report relates to creating jobs and boosting the economy with the help of the private sector. The National Strategy for Rural Roads and Access 2016, Myanmar National Transport Master Plan 2016 and National Export Strategy 2015-2019 are three plans focused on upgrading or constructing transport infrastructure in rural and urban areas. Investing in transport infrastructure in Myanmar could improve trade between Thailand and other countries, as upgraded ports, railways, roads and bridges will open up the country for trade.

Bridges and Roads

The second Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge is a bridge over the Moei River in east Myanmar that opened in 2019. The $126 million bridge connects the city of Myawaddy in Myanmar with Mae Sot in Thailand. Myanmar expects the bridge will significantly improve business between the two trade partners.

Two bridge projects in the capital Yangon are also underway. The Yangon-Thanlyin Bridge will connect the capital with Thanlyin, a major port city that handles most of the export and import shipments into and out of Myanmar. Estimates determine that construction on the $278 million bridge should end by 2021. Another bridge connecting Yangon with Dala in the southwest costs $188 million. Construction for this bridge should end by 2022. Dala is an underdeveloped and rural area that lacks bridges across the Yangon River; therefore, this forces inhabitants to take a ferry to cross the river. The bridge will not only help locals reduce travel time but also increase trade throughout Yangon.

Railways

Investments also include the construction of railways, after Myanmar noticed that the number of vehicles on roadways doubled from 2012 to 2016. Traffic within Yangon has become two to three times slower within the same time period. Yangon has a population of more than seven million, so reducing traffic congestion is an important issue. This also explains the push for bridge construction within the capital. The result of this observation led to the creation of the National Transport Master Plan in 2014. One part of the plan involves upgrading the $3 billion Yangon-Mandalay rail line. Work began in 2018, and it should be completed by 2023. Travel times between Yangon and Mandalay will likely reduce from 12 hours to eight hours.

Progress

Evidence of further progress in transport infrastructure in Myanmar is clear through the paved highway network, which increased by 35 percent. The country is developing at around 6 to 7 percent; however, according to the ADB, further investment in transport infrastructure is necessary to completely develop the transport sector. Job growth and improved trade are two major results of transport infrastructure investment. As the bridges and railways come to completion in the coming years, transportation within and outside Myanmar could greatly improve.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

poor in Myanmar
Agriculture is Myanmar’s most important sector and provides jobs for more than 60 percent of the population. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, decreased its poverty rate from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017. One of the reasons for this huge reduction in poverty is its transition from a military-led government through economic reforms and development in sectors such as agriculture, finance, transportation and energy. The poor in Myanmar reside mainly in rural areas, and have poor education and employment in the agriculture field. By developing the agriculture industry, the government intends to continue to reduce its poverty.

Developing the Agriculture Sector

A 2018 report launched by the Central Statistical Organization, with technical support from the UNDP and the World Bank, provided data on poverty in Myanmar and what the country needs to do to continually reduce poverty. The report acknowledged the success of reducing the poverty rate in half, yet brought up challenges in alleviating poverty in rural areas such as the Chin State. The Chin State is a state in western Myanmar with about a 60 percent poverty rate. Approximately 500,000 live in the Chin State. Since the poor in Myanmar have employment in the agriculture sector, the key findings show that the country can achieve poverty reduction by focusing its efforts on improving agricultural productivity.

Myanmar is the second-largest exporter of beans and pulses and the ninth-largest exporter of rice. In 2016 and 2017, Myanmar exported agricultural products worth more than $3 billion, yet productivity was less than neighbors such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Low productivity has stalled poverty reduction in areas such as Chin State due to relying on crops that are expensive to maintain and less profitable than most other crops that endure the same climate.

How Exactly Can Myanmar Reduce Poverty?

Findings from a separate report delved into even greater detail about what Myanmar needs to do to improve agricultural productivity, and therefore, increase income for the poor in Myanmar. The report, Myanmar: Analysis of Farm Production Economics, stated that a single day’s harvest during the 2013/2014 monsoon season produced 23 kg per paddy. In comparison, Cambodia produced 62 kg, Vietnam 429 kg and Thailand 547 kg per day. Reasons for lower production of paddy than Myanmar’s competitors include poor seed quality, insignificant use of fertilizers and a lack of infrastructure.

The conclusion to the report mentioned the need for broad-based agricultural development, as most farmers in the country produce paddy and not much else. Paddy is more expensive to produce and less profitable than other crops in the region. A lack of infrastructure further impedes progress and causes farmers to seek employment in distant urban areas for higher wages. The poor in Myanmar could benefit from diversifying into low-cost crops, especially ones that can handle the typical monsoon weather that the country experiences.

Investors Taking Action

The government and private investors are currently investing in Myanmar’s agriculture sector, particularly the growing fertilizer sector. Myanmar Awba Group received a $10 million loan from the International Finance Corporation to construct a chemical plant that will produce fertilizer. The Hmawbi Agricultural Input Complex opened in August 2018 and is expected to meet 50 percent of the demand for fertilizer in Myanmar. The demand for fertilizer has increased in the country, attracting investors from across the world. The Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation invested $18.5 million in a fertilizer facility in the Thilawa SEZ.

Myanmar is also dealing with infrastructure, low productivity and poor seed quality this year, 2019. In January 2019, CITIC Corporation collaborated with Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation (MAPCO) to invest $500 million into constructing high-end rice mills and agribusiness service centers across Myanmar. Ye Min Aung, the Managing Director of MAPCO, said, “The establishment of the high-end rice mills will boost both the local and export market.” Thanks to foreign investors and government initiatives, Myanmar is seeing action in poverty reduction by focusing efforts on improving the agriculture industry.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

 

Sanitation in Rohingya Refugee CampsMass persecution and forced deportation of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar have created over 1 million homeless refugees in Southeastern Asia. Historically facing discrimination, the Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in western Myanmar (formerly Burma). They have been regarded as stateless, meaning without citizenship or any rights associated with it, since 1982, and the recent Buddhist nationalist movement has led to increased religious tension. They have mainly fled to Bangladesh, many of them have no choice but to leave Myanmar and enter Bangladesh illegally. This is partly due to their lack of freedom under the Myanmarese government’s labeling of stateless.

Sanitation and Water Issues

The largest refugee camp area in Bangladesh is Cox’s Bazar, where over 900,000 Rohingya people have taken up residence across 27 different locations. The area, not designed to hold this many people for so long, faces extreme overcrowding. The overcrowding is so dire, Bangladesh has been searching for ways to send back the refugees. It has been difficult for many to have adequate sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps. There has even been a worry that existing wells have been constructed too close to the latrines. If this is the case, mass disease outbreaks could occur without sanitation improvements. However, organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Oxfam have been working to improve these conditions.

Cox’s Bazar is very susceptible to long dry seasons, from November to April or even May. Long dry seasons lead to the main water reservoirs that the refugees use for their water drying up. Shallow tube wells that some organizations have constructed are also very susceptible to drying. The dry season has been much worse recently due to the climate changes associated with El Niño. To make matters worse, the rain has come only in dramatic cyclones. To ensure sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps, including clean water access and improve sanitation, organizations developed and implemented deep-well tubes.

Deep tube wells penetrate the ground past surface-level aquifers and reach the more stable water table beneath. These wells allow for more consistent water access. The water is then piped up to above-ground tanks with solar energy, where it can be monitored and the quality of water can be maintained at safe levels. Constructed in many strategically placed areas of Cox’s Bazar, there are over 20,000 shallow and deep tube wells in place. With the rapid construction of these wells, the UNHCR and Bangladeshi government have reached the goal of 20 liters per person every day.

Rohingya Women and Issues of Safety

The issue of proper latrine construction and maintenance has also been an issue that plagues the Rohingya refugees, particularly women. Many women and girls do not feel safe using the latrines, or even walking to them. They are typically in very difficult-to-reach areas of the camps. Refugees often must walk down steep, muddy slopes to reach the toilets and showers. Other than the trek, the latrines typically have no roofs or doors, and sometimes have little to no walls. In an area with hundreds of thousands of people, a third of Rohingya women did not feel safe taking a shower or using the toilet, according to a study conducted by Oxfam in 2018.

Refugee women need to feel safe and comfortable. Oxfam has been working with the women to design new latrines. These efforts also help women become more involved in the decision-making processes in the camps. The newly designed latrines have a full four walls, as well as a door, a sink and a stall. By involving more women in infrastructure projects such as these, they become more empowered and eager to participate in decision-making processes. This creates a lasting effect, especially in the younger Rohingya generations, that ensures greater stability among gender equalities in a place where women are largely left out of critical decision discussions.

The Future of Rohingya Refugees

The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is higher than ever. But these refugees have seen major improvements through the engaging and effective efforts from many humanitarian organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. While there are still challenges to overcome, continued improvements in water access means improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps and clean water for refugees. Oxfam works to provide upgraded latrines and toilet sanitation for better privacy and safety for women and children. In addition, the construction of thousands of deep-tube wells ensures that no disease outbreaks will take place on account of contamination from the toilets.

While the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh remains tumultuous, those affected experience rapid developments in their living conditions. More refugees are likely to enter Cox’s Bazar, but sustained support from the international community ensures that more refugees than ever are able to have improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

Proximity Designs in Myanmar
The South Asian country of Myanmar has some of the best farmland in all of Asia. Considered the breadbasket of Asia, Myanmar grows a substantial amount of crops. Unfortunately, despite boasting some of the best growing conditions, Myanmar is not as prosperous as it should be. Fortunately, the company Proximity Designs has been aiding Myanmar’s economy through farmers.

The State of Farming in Myanmar

The potential for Myanmar to boost its economy through farming is there for the taking, but there are some roadblocks to recovery. Here are some facts about farming in Myanmar:

  • Agriculture makes up almost 40 percent of Myanmar’s economy.

  • Agricultural exports make up almost 30 percent of Myanmar’s total export earnings.

  • The farming industry employs 70 percent of the country’s workforce.

  • One day of work in Myanmar produces only 23 kg of crops while neighboring countries may produce 10 times that amount.

  • During monsoon season, a farmer may make around $2 a day and during the dry season around $3 a day.

  • Farmers in neighboring countries, like Thailand, make at least $7 a day in both seasons.

Poverty in Myanmar

Given the resources, both natural and human, the productivity of Myanmar is very low. With farmers making less than $4 a day and far less than farmers in neighboring countries, they have a tough time fighting poverty. One in four people in Myanmar are poor and a large number of them live in rural areas. The number of poor people in rural areas is almost seven times higher than those living in urban areas.

The government has attempted to aid the poor with some success, but a third of the population is still at risk of falling into poverty. The people of Myanmar struggle financially because their farming industry is not productive. The lack of productivity is down to a lack of education and tools in farming.

How Proximity Designs is Helping Farmers in Myanmar

Proximity Designs is a company that aims to increase the productivity of farmers in Myanmar. Its founders are Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din and they created the organization in 2004. Based in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, the company wants to raise the poor out of poverty by helping them increase their profits. To start, the company created high-tech irrigation tools like custom irrigation systems and solar-powered pumps. Despite having such rich farmland, the people of Myanmar still rely on monsoon season to provide water for their crops. If farmers can find a better way to nourish their crops in the dry season, then they can increase productivity, which is exactly what Proximity Designs is trying to do.

Another way the company helps the poor is by providing microloans. People primarily use loans during the dry season when men move to cities to find better work. They use the money to cover the cost of transportation to the city and any living expenses for the rest of the family. Proximity Designs has used its business to reach 80 percent of Myanmar’s farming population. Its work has been aiding Myanmar’s economy for almost 15 years now and the country’s economy has been on a steady rise.

The work Proximity Designs is doing in Myanmar is very important. The government alone has not done enough for the country, but with the help of foreign entities aiding Myanmar’s economy, the agricultural sector could boom. The potential to excel is clear and the workforce is available to support the industry. It is just a matter of giving farmers the right tools and education to make smart choices and increase the number of crops that they are producing. With increased production, the economy of Myanmar should grow and raise the incomes of farmers all over the country.

Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr

 

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