Burma is Actually Myanmar

In 1989, the ruling military junta officially changed the nation of Burma’s name to Myanmar. Though the United Nations and many European countries began using the name Myanmar after the change, the United States and the United Kingdom continued to use the name Burma.  On the other hand, the World Bank, at least informally, refers to the nation as Myanmar in their documents. There are two main reasons people today continue to use the country’s original name –

  1. Burma’s name was changed by an unelected, oppressive military regime, making it illegitimate. People, furthermore, often refuse to use the name Myanmar in solidarity for the Burmese people.
  2. The media continues to use the name Burma since their audience recognizes it, thus reinforcing the public’s usage of Burma as the nation’s name.

Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world

Poverty can be measured using various indicators and measures but a widely respected tool is the multi-dimensional poverty index, which ranks this country as 14th from the bottom out of 109 countries. It is rich in natural resources; they supply 80% of the world teak and were once the greatest exporter of rice. However, power imbalances and repression have left Burma in poverty.

They are also one of the most repressed countries

Burma has been under a repressive military regime since 1962 while sanctions against this regime have been in place for the past decade. As it stands, many blame poverty on the political unrest in the region. For example in the 2011 budget, 23.6% ($2 billion) was allocated to military spending and a mere 1.3% ($110 million) was spent on health. It is not surprising then that the average life expectancy in Burma is only 65.

Burmese women struggle for rights

Human rights are grossly insufficient in Burma, especially for women. Burmese women are often raped by the military, a crime that usually goes unpunished. There are deep rooted gender stereotypes held about women in Burma which has silenced women and forbidden them from participating in the political arena for a very long time. Though human rights organizations are fighting to help women earn the rights they deserve, progress has been slow.

The UNDP is investing in Burma

Last year the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a 3 year Country-Programme Action plan outlining the support and engagement the UNDP will give to Burma. The UNDP’s Administrator Helen Clark believes that the country has great potential for economic growth. However, in order for the country to grow, the UNDP must help eradicate extreme poverty and build a peaceful and inclusive population.    As such, the UNDP’s Country-Programme will pour $150 million U.S. dollars into the Burma from 2013-2015 to strengthen democratic and local governance, support the environment and disaster management as well as to aid in poverty reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: Significane Magazine, CIA, BBC, UNDP, World Bank, Women’s League of Burma
Photo: Socwall

Two years ago, Myanmar (also known as Burma) was the runt of Southeast Asia. For decades, it had suffered under autocratic military rule, entrenched human rights violations, and, at a 26% poverty rate, one of the region’s worst economies. But all that is starting to change.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the seaside nation, prompting a flood of international aid. Despite skepticism about aid impact, the global attention kickstarted major national reform in Myanmar. Jim Della-Giacoma, the director of the International Crisis Group in Asia, recently applauded the nation for handling the abrupt largesse transparently and efficiently—tendencies not often reflected in emerging governments.

In 2011, the decades-long civil war between the government and the Kachin rebels in Myanmar came to a ceasefire. The unprecedented peace has opened the gates wide for fostering economic growth and forging new global connections. The sprawling country is making visible strides out of almost 30 years of internal conflict and isolation and has become a harbor for international development work.

Not only is the nation poised for amplified development efforts, however—Myanmar has launched itself to the head of its league. In 2014, it will assume chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a bloc it joined in 1997. Its leadership will, among many things, be key to improved environmental policy in the region.

“I never thought I’d be talking about Myanmar’s influence in Southeast Asia,” said Carter Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. “Sometimes there are moments when countries change governments and things happen, then shame on us if we don’t provide the right technical assistance at the right time.”

His words could almost be the roadmap for USAID, the US bilateral development agency that has been providing technical assistance in Myanmar since the country first opened international relations a few years ago. Under the “U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity” launched by President Obama last November, USAID is unfolding a three-pronged strategy to end health insecurity, boost the hi-tech industry, and encourage participatory governance in Myanmar.

The nation still faces serious human rights challenges, such as military persecution of its Muslim minority. Still, its ascent from hopeless destitution and obscurity to growing prosperity and leadership is staggering and offers hope to its many poor neighbors.

“There’s a real dialogue and engagement with government at a broad range of levels,” said Rajiv Shah, a USAID administrator in Myanmar. “There’s real progress.”

— John Mahon

Sources: Reuters, World Bank, Devex
Photo: Times Live

child soldiers
The subject of many a documentary, news report, and even novel, the figure of the child soldier emerged onto the global stage in the late 20th century, largely the result of publicized conflicts in places like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The heartbreaking and sometimes frightening images of children—almost all of them African boys—turned into violent killers captured the attention of many in the west.  Like most images, these tell only a part of the story.  Here are five important and sobering facts about child soldiers.

1. Not all child soldiers are African. The organization Child Soldiers International reports that “since 2000, the participation of these soldiers has been reported in most armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world.” No exact figures have been compiled, but some estimates put the number at 250,000 child soldiers currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Countries, where child soldiers can be found, include Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, India, Somalia, and Yemen.

2. They do more than just fight. Child soldiers not only fight on the front lines, but they also serve as runners, spies, and in some cases human shields. Many of them are also sexually abused and exploited.

3. Not all child soldiers are boys. Girls under 18 are often recruited or captured during conflicts, and most of the time they suffer sexual abuse and exploitation. An estimated 40% of them are girls.

4. They are both recruited and forced into serving. Many soldiers are violently kidnapped and forced to serve in armies or in opposition groups.  Some, however, are drawn in because poverty and deprivation leave them vulnerable to the promise of money, food, and clothing if they take up arms. Desperation proves to be a powerful motivating force for some children.

5. They can be and have been rehabilitated. Despite the horrors they have suffered and in many cases committed, these soldiers are children forced or lured into war. Many organizations around the globe work to provide the therapy, medical attention, and education that these children need. Hundreds of former soldiers have benefited from this kind of care and been reunited with family members and loved ones.

– Délice Williams

Sources: Child, Peace Direct USA
Photo: MW

Myanmar Leader Takes Steps to Fight Poverty
The history of Myanmar is one that allowed poverty to thrive and its people to suffer. However, in the past two years, the newly elected democratic government has been taking strides to lift the country from the depths of poverty and destruction to which it had sunk. President Thein Sein made a commitment Sunday to fight poverty and rebuild Myanmar’s economy.

Myanmar has ample water resources, an efficient labor force, an advantageous climate, and abundant natural resources which make economic development a natural reality. President Sein acknowledged this foundation in his speech in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. He also acknowledged that Myanmar is one of the poorest among the LDC’s (least developed countries). It is going to take hard work, coordinated efforts, and top priorities to lift Myanmar out of poverty.

Poverty alleviation is a priority with the new government. Myanmar was at one time a country full of hope and economic prospects. It was a bright light in Southeast Asia prior to the years of military control that caused Myanmar to fall far behind its neighbors. According to the Asian Development Bank, a quarter of the population of Myanmar lives below the nation’s poverty line.

The plan to alleviate poverty launched by President Sein’s government includes micro-finance loans as a tool to help rid the nation of poverty. Those loans worth several million dollars will be given to households and workers who can utilize the loans to lift themselves out of poverty.  It is a step in the right direction and a glimmer of hope in a nation that has been dark for so long.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Channel News Asia

As a young child, Dr. Aisha Simjee contracted Trachoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness if not treated.  Dr. Simjee grew up in Burma and as a 7 year-old was being prepared for a life as a housewife when she contracted the disease. She was cured by a folk remedy that consisted of having a local women squirt breast milk into her eye. The experience led Dr. Simjee to a life mission-healing the blind.  Her fascination with eye health led her to immigrate to the US and study to be an ophthalmologist in Orange Country, CA.

Now in her sixties with two grown children, Dr. Simjee has written a book reflecting on her life experience.  The experiences of a youth growing up in Burma impacted her and motivated her to do more than simply be a good doctor. She wanted to prevent blindness and eye disease in the world’s poor. Her book, “Hope in Sight: One Doctor’s Quest to Restore Eyesight and Dignity to the World’s Poor” tells of her journey and includes decades of personal journals and accounts from friends, families, and colleagues.  She wrote the book to motivate others to give back and encourage other young ophthalmologists to help others.

The World Health Organization reports that over three-quarters of all blindness worldwide can be prevented or treated.  Around 285 million people are visually impaired due to various treatable causes and about 90% of the world’s visually impaired people live in developing nations where there are little or no welfare services. Dr. Simjee has seen firsthand how eyesight can be a matter of survival.  She has served on more than 25 medical missions, often putting her private practice on hold and paying her own expenses.  Her trips have spanned Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, and Africa.  The 69-year-old persists  in taking the trips and she often serves in rural areas.  Her mission is not to travel to well-equipped capital cities, but to the villages miles and miles away from modern civilization.

She has worked with children suffering from wounds from knives, people who have walked miles to see her, prison inmates, and indigenous Indians.  Her goal is eyesight and helping people regardless of status. Her book focuses on hard facts and short anecdotes about her travels and the experiences she has had.  Dr. Simjee wants to motivate others to give their time and money to help others.  Dr. Simjee is a wonderful example of someone using their talents to serve the world’s under-resourced. Check out her book from White Spruce Press.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Ophthalmology Times
Photo: Twitter

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with U.S. technology and communications giant, Cisco, to provide Burma with two new technical education centers. The two Cisco Networking Academies will provide valuable skills in information and communications technology to the developing nation, and provide citizens with job-ready abilities to bolster the country’s growing information and communications tech (ICT) industry.

The USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, has said that technology infrastructure can create stable and continued economic growth and development, and that “ICT can expand economic opportunities, transform public service delivery, and provide more opportunities for citizen engagement.”

Cisco has been a continual partner of USAID, having established networking education centers in over 165 countries, which have provided relevant skills for entry-level careers in ICT while also developing other valuable general career abilities including “problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.”

In Burma, Cisco has agreed to donate the equipment needed to start the two Networking Academies and the training for 15 faculty members. Sandy Walsh, Director of Cisco’s Social Innovation Group, said that Cisco is dedicated to providing education to help continue technological development in “emerging economies,” and that the academies will aid Burmese citizens in gaining career skills needed in the 21st century.

Three additional American tech leaders, including Intel, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard, participated in a technology delegation to Burma, also led by USAID, in hopes of continued collaboration that will increase internet access and promote digital literacy and government openness. The partnership between USAID and Cisco hopes to create alliances with American tech companies, the local government, and the private sector to increase “social and economic development” using technological resources.

 – Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID
Photo: VOA

Last week, the United States announced that it would lift sanctions on four of Myanmar’s largest banks in hopes of continued economic development in the country, and as a reward for continued improvements in the country’s political system. As sanctions are lifted, the banks will now have access to the United States’ financial system and have the opportunity to interact with U.S. businesses and citizens. The four banks that will benefit, according to the Treasury Department, are the Myanmar Economic Bank, Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank.

The Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, stated, “Increased access to Burma’s banking system for our companies and non-governmental organizations will help to facilitate Burma’s continued social and economic development.”

Although most restrictions have been lifted, there are still mechanisms in place that allow the U.S. government to monitor the banks in case of a negative change in recent political reforms. In a similar gesture last summer, the U.S. Treasury began allowing U.S. companies to deal with Myanmar by way of investing and administering other financial assistance – as long as all transactions were recorded and disclosed.

This trend has continued for the last two years, as the European Union along with the U.S. have backed away from conditional restrictions regarding Myanmar’s political situation, which included the release of political prisoners.

Myanmar officials stated that previous sanctions had prevented the country from growing its economy and eradicating widespread poverty.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Reuters