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Hunger in Myanmar
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a nation with a diverse population of approximately 53 million people of at least 135 different ethnic groups. While it is the second-largest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar remains one of the least developed nations in the world.

Progress in the fight against hunger in Myanmar

The country of Myanmar has made significant progress in the fight against hunger in the past few decades. The rate of under-five overweight children fell from 2.6% in 2009 to 1.5% in 2016. Myanmar’s low birth-weight prevalence also decreased slightly from 13.9% in 2000 to 12.3% in 2015.

The proportion of undernourished people in the population also declined remarkably. In 2019, around 1 in 10 Burmese were undernourished, which shows significant progress compared to 2000 where almost half of the population was undernourished.

Myanmar is also performing well among developing countries in reducing wasting in children. Wasting in children means having a low weight for height ratio, which is a strong predictor of under-five child mortality. Compared to the average developing country rate at 8.9%, Myanmar’s national under-five wasting prevalence stood at 6.6%.

Despite these achievements, more than a third of Myanmar’s population who live in poverty spend a significant amount of their limited income on food, and they are still struggling with malnutrition.

Malnutrition burden

Malnutrition among the under-five population is a serious factor when it comes to the state of hunger in Myanmar, as it hinders the children’s growth and development. This issue also exposes these children to various illnesses.

Approximately 29.4% of the children under five were stunted in 2016. While this percentage is indeed an improvement from the national prevalence of 35.1% in 2009, it is still significantly high when compared to an average of 25% in other developing countries. In some states or regions, the prevalence could be upwards of 41%, indicating that 4 in 10 children will not be able to reach their full potential in life.

Malnutrition also disproportionately affects children from the poorest households. While the rate of stunting in children from the wealthiest group is 16%, the rate is more than doubled for the poorest group of children, with 38% of them stunted.

Malnutrition due to poor diets not only negatively affects the children, but is also a great burden to the adult population in Myanmar. A staggering 46.3% of women of reproductive age have anemia, while 7.9% of adult women and 6.9% of adult men are diabetic. Meanwhile, 4% of men and 7.3% of women are obese, leaving them at risk of different cardiovascular diseases and other serious health consequences.

Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya people are among those who are the most at risk of poverty and hunger in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddist nation. The Rohingya population, a large majority of whom are Muslims, has long been experiencing discrimination, restrictions from basic services and denial of citizenship by local authorities despite condemnation from the international community.

In 2017, after attacks from the Rohingya insurgents killed several members of Myanmar security forces, the Myanmar military ferociously retaliated by massacring and destroying villages in the western Rakhine state. This forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. After the army crackdown, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that more than 80,000 children under 5 years old living in parts of western Myanmar were wasting and may need treatment for malnutrition.

Withholding food supply or forced starvation are other strategies being used against the Rohingya Muslims to drive them away from their homes. The Rohingya refugees interviewed by Amnesty International reported that soldiers blocked them from accessing rice paddies and other food resources, stole their harvests, and gave their food and livestock to non-Rohingya neighbors. Sometimes they would have to go for several days without food.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have been displaced due to violence in previous years must live in makeshift shelters with appalling living conditions and under direct threat of dangers caused by monsoon rains. Surveys show that 38% of children living in these camps are stunted, and at least 12% are suffering from severe malnutrition.

Assistance from the international community

High exposure to natural disasters, armed conflicts or inter-communal clashes are just some of the numerous challenges that Myanmar faces. These factors combined leave a large proportion of Myanmar’s population suffering from poverty and hunger. It is estimated that nearly 1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Since 1994, Action Against Hunger has worked to fight hunger in Myanmar by improving nutrition, food security, water quality, sanitation and hygiene in vulnerable communities where ethnic minorities reside. In 2018, the organization’s nutrition and health programs reached 26,751 people. Another 19,461 people benefited from the water, sanitation, and hygiene programs, while 23,790 people were helped by the food security and livelihood programs. In just 2018 alone, Action Against Hunger has reached 76,312 in vulnerable communities across Myanmar.

The organization also works to respond to the urgent needs of the displaced Rohingya people who fled from violence in Myanmar. In just one year, Action Against Hunger has helped more than 700,000 displaced people with food security and livelihoods, mental support and care practices, water quality and access, and hygiene and sanitation.

 

Despite the challenges, Myanmar has achieved the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger and reached the status of a lower-middle-income country in the past decades. Many organizations are working hard alongside the government to alleviate poverty and hunger in Myanmar. However, with the conflicts between Myanmar’s authorities and the Rohingya Muslims remains ongoing inside the nation, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Hunger in Myanmar
Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia but has one of the least developed economies in the world. Food security in the country is threatened by natural disasters, isolationist policies, conflicts and ethnic violence. Millions of people are living below the poverty line. It is important to know the top 10 facts about hunger in Myanmar to help illustrate food insecurity conditions in the country.

What are the Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Myanmar?

  1. Approximately 25.6 percent of the 53 million people living in Myanmar (formerly Burma) is below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program U.S.A. (WFP), around 298,700 people don’t have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food and are in need of food assistance. Women, people with disabilities, the elderly and minorities are the most affected.
  2. The Human Development Index (HDI) measures basic human developments, taking into account variables such as life expectancy, years of schooling and income. According to the index, Myanmar ranks at 148 out of 189 countries. The majority of the country’s population, almost 70 percent, live in rural areas where poverty is two times as high and food insecurity conditions are much worse than urban areas. Statistics from the World Bank in 2015 show that 6.4 percent live with $1.90 a day.
  3. Children are more prone to illness and infections when their growth and development are hindered due to a poor diet. In Myanmar, 29.4 percent of children under five have stunted development. According to statistics from 2016, 18.9 percent of children are underweight.
  4. The infant mortality rate in Myanmar is high because of malnutrition: for every 1,000 live births, there are 35.8 deaths. According to 2012 statistics from UNICEF, the child mortality rate was 52 for children under five. For a child’s development, it is crucial to receive adequate nutrition in the first weeks and years of their life. Malnutrition and stunting in infants can reduce if mothers breastfeed their children for the recommended six months. Save the Children is an organization that aims to provide nutrition information and encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies. Their nutrition programme works to ensure that families have access to, and can afford, nutritious food.
  5. The average rate of enrollment in primary school is close to 88 percent. 75 percent of those children make it to fifth grade. However, about half of those students finish school; the net completion rate is 54 percent. Poor families in rural communities cannot afford to send their children to school or provide enough food for them. These children eventually discontinue their education and start working. The WFP aims to keep children in school by providing school lunches.
  6. Myanmar is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and is one of the top 10 countries most affected by climate risk. Extreme climatic conditions such as irregular or heavy rainfall threaten its agriculture which contributes 30 percent of the national GDP. As many as 85 percent of the households in Kayah, a state in eastern Myanmar, frequently experience food shortages due to environmental challenges.
  7. Myanmar heavily relies on agriculture and faces many challenges. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program aims to fight poverty, malnutrition and hunger by implementing agricultural sustainable development programs. The Climate-Friendly Agribusiness Value Chain Sector Project in the Central Dry Zone (CDZ) of Myanmar plans to implement $27 million to decrease food insecurity for the rural poor. The projected impact of the project targets 100,000 people, in eight townships across the CDZ,  half of whom are women.
  8. Floods, food insecurity, armed conflicts and inter-community violence create waves of displacement. In fact, more than one million people in Myanmar have been displaced since June 2011. According to Action Against Hunger, there are around 863,000 people who need humanitarian aid in Myanmar, 241,000 of which are displaced. Being forced to flee their homes also means these families leave behind their livelihoods. Refugees and internally displaced people are left with no means of securing meals for themselves.
  9. Tuberculosis and HIV patients have higher nutritional needs during their treatment periods, and Myanmar has one of the highest number of patients. TB rates are among the highest in Asia, and Myanmar is among the 20 high TB burdened countries. It is also one of the 35 countries that has 90 percent of new HIV infections in the world. The WFP offers food assistance to 17,000 patients to ensure treatment adherence and success.
  10. Food security and malnutrition are accompanied by issues such as the lack of access to water and sanitation. According to an estimation from 2015 by the CIA World Factbook, 19.4 percent of the population didn’t have access to improved drinking water sources such as piped water, protected wells or springs. In 2017, Action Against Hunger’s nutrition and health programs reached 31,233 people. 9,344 people benefitted from water, sanitation and hygiene programs while 9,837 people utilized food security and livelihoods programs. The organization’s operation in the country started in 1994 and in 2017, it helped a total of 50,414 people.

These top 10 facts about poverty in Myanmar may paint a grim picture but the country has developed in many ways from 1990 to 2017. It reached the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by half in 2015 and its HDI value has increased by 61.5 percent,i.e. from 0.358 to 0.578. Life expectancy has increased by 8 years and the mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling increased by 2.5 years and 3.9 years respectively.

Many organizations that work on alleviating poverty and ending hunger help thousands of people each year. However, the above top 10 facts about hunger in Myanmar show that there is still a lot of work to be done.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr