In the global fight against Malaria, the drug, artemisinin, has been a common theme. However, with the ongoing rise of resistance to the drug, new approaches are needed. As the resistance spreads, it threatens to enter Myanmar by India, which then puts the entire African continent at risk.

Myanmar has a longstanding history of rigid ethnic division and an overall lack of cooperation in both domestic and international politics. However, the imminent danger posed by the potential for the spread of artemisinin-resistant Malaria could be bringing about a new era of cooperation. Since Malaria is a problem that everyone in the country is facing, the structure encouraged by conflict and the history of segregation is being weakened by necessity. People are beginning to realize that the risks posed by the resistance are so imminent and dramatic that there is no time to waste in upholding such strict separations.

With an election coming up in November, these discussions held between the opposing political parties are important. As the public sees that the government as a whole is making serious efforts to combat Malaria, there will likely be less distrust and suspicion, which could encourage participation in the elections. It is widely understood by both sides that the fight against malaria should not and cannot be subject to the ups and downs of political turmoil in the country.

Additionally, because most deaths from malaria are occurring in marginalized ethnic communities that have long battled the government, which has affected the access to and quality of medical care in those areas, the new view on and cooperation in the fight against Malaria will have to address the issue in order to reach the goal of eliminating Malaria by 2025. Myanmar has made an effort to prove to the U.S. that they are taking Malaria seriously so as to encourage foreign aid by inviting members of various ethnic groups and central government departments to convene in a meeting in Washington D.C. this past week, the timid first step towards collaboration to eradicate Malaria in Myanmar and to prevent the spread of the artemisinin-resistance to larger, vulnerable populations.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2
Photo: Bangkok Post

Flooding and extremely heavy rains have accounted for about 150,000 displaced people in Myanmar and the death of 27 people thus far. These extreme conditions were initially attributed to Cyclone Komen, which hit the region of southeast Asia, followed by intense rain.

These rains have lead to flooding, landslides and other disasters, which have completely destroyed specific regions in Myanmar. Heavy rains that have plagued the region in past weeks are unfortunately expected to continue over the next few weeks, furthering the disaster and mess that fills the region. There are images and videos of people using rafts and boats to maneuver through city streets, where cars were meant to be driven.

This is an issue of security for the government of Myanmar as well as private actors that are trying to assist displaced people in the region. Though the disaster occurred a few days ago, both government officials and members of other organizations such as the Red Cross predict that they will not able to reach any people caught in the disaster for days. Because the flooding and landslides are so intense and extreme, it is difficult for anyone on the outside to make their way into the disaster efficiently or safely. This also means it is near impossible for those stuck in the floods to make their way out to safety.

The extent of damage varies throughout the region. Not only have homes been washed away and roads completely submerged in water, but even bridges have been washed away and large buildings have collapsed. The United Nations has said there are about 140,000 people left from the flood and disaster currently living in camps in the region’s capital after managing to escape the horrible conditions.

These floods will have a detrimental long-term impact as well. Numerous crop fields, including about half a million rice paddy fields, have been flooded and destroyed. The economic toll of such destruction has yet to be determined.

There is hope that the extreme weather conditions will ease soon, thus making relief aid more readily available and able to enter the region to help those who are trapped.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: CNN, BBC
Photo: BBC

In January 2015, the Myanmar government launched the first stage of the largest national campaign to eradicate and control Measles and Rubella by the year 2020.

The second stage took place in February 2015. Initially, these beginning stages were concentrated on Measles, but from May 2015 onward, the national campaign will offer the Measles and Rubella vaccine jointly.

The campaign is supported by the WHO, GAVI, American Red Cross, the U.N. Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF. The goal is to reach 94 percent of the population through vaccination teams of 12,000 health care professionals. The aim is to reach 17 million children between nine months and 15 years in 65,000 villages and 45,000 schools.

Myanmar has remained committed to vaccinating its population against fatal and debilitating diseases. In 2013, a polio immunization campaign was launched and 370,00 children under five years were vaccinated using the oral drops method. In early 2014, Myanmar, along with many other states in Southeast Asia, was declared polio-free.

Health care is reported to be expensive, of a poor quality and has difficulty in providing attentive care toward patients in Myanmar.

This vaccination campaign is also incredibly important because the population has been neglected in terms of health care due to the ongoing conflict and political issues. There are 587,000 internally displaced persons. There are 800,000 living in the western state, Rakhine state, who are stateless and 140,000 who have fled from their homes. Nevertheless, this campaign is attempting to reach those living in Rakhine state, which has been in an increasingly violent conflict-ridden state since 2012 as there are numerous clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. The vaccination campaign aims to reach populations in this region at a higher rate to match the national level.

While there are political hurdles to achieving an overall better health care system, the coordination of efforts between the state, local and international bodies in regard to vaccination is successful. This vaccination campaign is a major stride for Myanmar investing in the betterment of its people.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Reliefweb, WHO, BBC, Salon
Photo: Measles & Rubella Initiative

malnutrition in myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has an estimated population of 53 million people. Of this population, 2.5 million children in Myanmar suffer from stunted growth as a result of being malnourished over an extended period of time. Malnourished children often experience long term debilitating mental and psychical effects. These effects also impact the community and health resources available.

Currently, the rate of malnutrition in Myanmar is staggeringly high. The western area of the country, where 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims live, has unprecedented levels. More than 140,000 people are subjected to living in filthy, overcrowded camps. Others face restricted movement from villages and a lack of access to basic needs, such as clean water, food, education and healthcare. Political issues and ethnically motivated crimes have caused over 200,000 people to flee to neighboring areas such as Bangladesh to save their lives.

Human Rights Watch reports have indicated that ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have occurred in Myanmar as a result of the atrocities faced by the Rohingya people. However, this minority is not recognized by the government, and the term Rohingya is prohibited from being used by the government in Myanmar.

In accordance with Millennium Development Goal One, to end hunger and extreme poverty, Myanmar has attempted to make progress. As of 2013, it has been collaborating with UNICEF in order to help combat child malnutrition. Myanmar has joined other countries in the global ‘scaling up nutrition’ movement.

The United States and other countries need to work with the government of Myanmar to help it create reform programs that provide equality to all its people, including equal rights protection and access to food, clean water and sanitation. Progress has been made, but the potential for more is great.

Erika Wright

Sources: The Parliament Magazine, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Cottage Industry Weave
Cottage industries have faced many challenges over the ages from, at the time, the industrial revolution and now, globalization. Yet people living in rural areas even now often engage in small scale manufacturing activities like weaving, sewing and other artisanal crafts, to supplement their income. These activities need little investment and are usually conducted at home, sometimes passed on from generation to generation.

The benefits of cottage industries and other small scale enterprises are a no-brainer. Apart from productive income activities, they create an environment of lower income inequality and allow people to take control of their lives and bring earnings into their community. Most importantly, they generate gainful non-agriculture based employment for those who cannot find jobs elsewhere. They can play a surprisingly large role in improving a nation’s economic standing. In addition to general poverty alleviation programs, developing cottage industries is an approach that can boost the rural economy and diversify its production.

In spite of its benefits, cottage industries struggle to survive under the pressure of globalization. Their products are unable to compete with the cheap goods of efficient production. Lacking the marketing savvy to advertise their products and safeguard their interests, these entrepreneurs lose out on the global playing ground. On the flip side, globalization also opens new markets and increases demand for products of all kinds, ranging from tourism to uniquely embroidered textiles and crafts. Indian handicrafts export alone has grown from Rs. 10 crores in the fifties to over Rs. 4000 crores in the post globalization era in 1991.

What can be done to help the cottage industry thrive, even in the face of globalization? The main issues that face cottage industries in most countries are the same—lack of finance, infrastructure and an easily accessible method to advertise and sell their products. In Myanmar (Burma), 80 percent of cottage and small enterprises mentioned access to finance as a major roadblock to their operations. Microfinance and development banks play a critical role in alternative financing. In India, the MSME Act of 2006 was launched specifically to improve the development of such industries. They manage cluster development where groups of cottage industries can train and sell their products together, in addition to mandating stricter penalties for delays in payment by banks to cottage industries.

Cottage industry clusters promote employment, local capacity and collective power for small entrepreneurs. UNIDO cluster development program in India addresses all these issues, increasing productivity of the units by 15 to 20 percent by providing basic machinery, increasing market linkages, profit margins and empowerment of women artisans. Fluency in English, improved marketing skills, vocational training and access to raw materials can help small domestic business broaden their customer and product base. The scope for involvement of community service organizations and business associations in working towards this goal is large. The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization supports women’s cooperatives in the war torn West Bank and Gaza strip in training in food processing, providing small equipment to aid their manufacturing and a centralized point of sale where they can get a constant market.

So far cottage industries have been focusing on products and services that have high demands and markets. However, the scope for such small community organizations in environmental, health and other sectors is also large. An exciting example of this is solar systems as a cottage industry. Dr. Richard Komp, Director of Maine Solar Energy Association, has been building solar cottage industries across South America and Africa. He teaches people how to build solar collector arrays from factory second photovoltaic cells that can be used for things like solar cookers and thermal systems. Cottage industries can accomplish so much given the right support and infrastructure.

– Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: FAO, Government of Odisha, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Bhutan, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Royal Thimphu College, Solar Array, Social Science Research Network, UNIDO 1, UNIDO 2
Photo: Wikimedia

The well-known medical humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, announced last week that it has reopened its clinics in the state of Rakhine, populated by the Rohingya minority, in Myanmar after a nine-month government ban charging the organization with bias against natural-born citizens.

Doctors Without Borders—known worldwide as Médecins Sans Frontières, or simply MSF—has worked in Rakhine since 1992, providing health assistance to one of the poorest regions in Myanmar. The charges of bias come from Buddhist officials who believe that aid groups favor the minority Muslim Rohingyas. The clinics were closed in February and reopened December 17 of last year.

The Myanmar government was criticized for the ban of MSF, which is one of the biggest providers of medical care in the country. Even though the group reopened its clinics, a spokesman said that “this is not a full resumption of activities.” After the ban on MSF, some 500,000 people in Rakhine were left without access to medical care. In the months since reopening clinics, MSF reports 3,480 consultations.

There are approximately 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar, 140,000 of which are displaced as a result of violence. Human Rights Watch says that these people “have effectively been denied Burmese citizenship.” There have been reported incidents of violence against Rohingya people for years.

Last year, Myanmar’s government allowed a U.N. human rights expert named Yanghee Lee to make two trips to the country to assess the citizens’ rights, including those of the minority groups in the nation. After her second trip, she reported: “Valuable gains made in the area of freedom of expression and assembly risk being lost. Indeed, there are signs that since my last visit, restrictions and harassment on civil society and the media may have worsened.”

In response to Lee’s report, an influential Buddhist monk named Ashin Wirathu referred to her in disrespectful terms, even going as far as to call the U.N. representative a “whore.” He went on to dismiss her concerns by attacking her character.

“Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honorable woman,” Wirathu said. As Doctors Without Borders reenters Myanmar, much work needs to be done to ease the tensions that remain.

– Caitlin Huber

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters
Photo: Guardian Liberty Voice

myanmarSince the start of last year, the government of Myanmar has taken significant strides in reforming its education system, particularly the tertiary-level schools.

For decades, Myanmar was under military dictatorship. During these times, the military government spent only 1.3 percent of its entire spending on education. Today, the government spends a significant amount more. For instance, during the fiscal year of 2012-2013, the government of Myanmar spent nearly 11 percent of their total spending of $7.13 billion on education. There have been noticeable changes in the government and prioritizing education has been among them.

One of the biggest changes has been the reopening of Yangon University. For 20 years, the Yangon University in Myanmar had been closed off to undergraduate students because the government has discouraged higher education. However, in 2014, the University was reopened to students. A young group of 1,000 new undergraduates have been selected to attend.

This is a historic, significant move made by the government of Myanmar for several reasons:

  • Myanmar can rebuild the damaged reputation of their tertiary leveled schools. A tertiary leveled school refers to institutions of higher education, while primary and secondary school refers to elementary and middle schools. For decades, Myanmar was under the ruling military junta.
  • Myanmar has the opportunity to engage in higher education with the rest of the world. Already, many significant partnerships have been established through the Ministry of Education. From Asia, Thailand’s Thepsatri Rajabhat University and several South Korean universities have offered partnerships. Even from the West, prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins have also created partnerships. However, one of the more significant investments has been through the Japan International Cooperation, where seven Japanese universities are partnering with a initiative that has cost $13.5 million dollars to work with universities to update and expand engineering knowledge in Myanmar.

These could be seen as business opportunities for those schools who have pushed for education. However, there are many benefits for Yangon University to be affiliated with different universities.

  • The university curriculum will not be completely in military control. The students (and future generations) will have space to create their own thoughts. Through the partnerships, the Myanmar universities will have to create curriculums together with the their new partners who have different ideas to offer.
  • Offering Myanmar students an opportunity to study abroad will expose them to completely different cultures that they never would have imagined while being under tight military laws. Having foreign exchange students visiting Myanmar will also allow for opportunity to exchange ideas and therefore enriching potential discourse.
  • Inviting foreign professors to lecture in their halls will further expose them to different perspectives and most importantly, encourage and foster creativity.
  • Academic freedom is still limited in Myanmar. Students cannot freely speak, write or publish materials without repercussions. Foreign influence will not only benefit the students but also the administrators who run these institutions.

There are high hopes for Myanmar as their education system continues to develop and become in sync with the rest of the world of higher education, which will ultimately change their culture and society.

Christina Cho

Sources: University World News, Education Database, Oxford Business Group
Photo: Google Images

Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia. Thailand borders it from the south while India borders it from the west and China from the east. With its location, one might think Myanmar won the geographical lottery; it has so much potential to be an economic power in the region. However, Myanmar continues to be riddled by poverty and therefore remains one of the poorest nations in the region.

In fiscal year 2013/2014, Myanmar’s population was 51.4 million, with a GDP of $56.8 billion. Based off this number, the country’s per capita CDP was $1,105—making it one of the poorest in the entire region. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, nearly 37.5 percent of the population is currently living in poverty.

It has one of the lowest population densities in the region. The land is resource-rich and perfectly suitable for agriculture and, therefore, over half the population attribute agriculture as their main source of work. The next greatest form of work is found in wholesale, retail trade and repairs, in which 15 percent of the population take part.

Most of the poverty found in Myanmar is attributed to three different things. First is that the poor are stuck in situations that have no exits. These are the ones who were initially involved in agricultural, mining, construction or trade, whose employment was negatively affected by the loss of markets—and therefore leading them to become chronically poor. Nearly 45 percent of the population own land and rely on it for work.

Second, poor distribution of labor contributes greatly to poverty. In Myanmar, some people are underemployed—those working less than 44 hours per week—while those who are employed work too much. Of those who are employed, collectively the nation works 60 million hours each week, meaning that if labor hours were redistributed, it could potentially create 1.34 million additional full-time positions for those who are currently unemployed. Furthermore, underemployment shows that workers are receiving too low of a return despite the high output of work. This could be avoided if productivity, and therefore wages, were increased.

Third, many of the people in Myanmar rely on agriculture for work, but they consider themselves to be at the mercy of factors that they actually have control over. Such factors include weather-related causes such as droughts or floods and pests that destroy their plants. Currently, such misfortunes affect about eight percent of agricultural outputs each year. Fortunately, technological advances are currently widely available to prevent and mitigate the effect of these losses. Therefore, investing in spreading knowledge and getting farmers properly equipped would be the biggest work left to do to increase agricultural outputs each year.

Since transitioning into a democratic government from an authoritarian regime, the government has pushed policies to bring economic reform. In the fiscal year of 2013-2014, Myanmar’s economy had grown nearly 8.3 percent. However, it has been primarily driven through the construction, manufacturing and service sectors. In order to thoroughly combat poverty, Myanmar cannot leave out the millions of the poor who rely on agriculture and must help further develop their trade through investments.

Christina Cho

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, UNDP, World Bank
Photo: Susana Gomez

In the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, displaced Rohingya Muslims face a severe health crisis as malnutrition spreads, and treatable illnesses and injuries go unattended.

The country’s recent history of ethnic tension has disfavored the minority Muslims, pushing them to regions along coastal Myanmar where many of the displaced are settled in refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has caught the attention of international aid organizations that set up medical centers and ration distribution facilities.

However, medical aid to the ostracized group was all but completely cut off by government officials who accused Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (Doctors Without Borders-Holland) of favoritism to Muslims in Myanmar, promoting anti-government sentiment, and ordered them to leave in February of 2014.

As a result of the expulsion, the 700,000 people that depended on MSF’s service were left without proper medical care. By late July, when the government declared that MSF could return, the Rohingya had already endured months of a bleak health crisis with no help to turn to.

In a Reuters report from one of the camps, Aisyah Begum told the story of her husband who was injured while working in the forest. The man would have been taken to the nearby MSF clinic had it been open. The couple was left with no other option but to drive two hours to the nearest private doctor in Maungdaw who then refused to help. The man eventually passed away from what was most likely a treatable infection.

Around the time MSF was granted permission to return, the United Nations publicly commented on the refugee camps’ inhumane conditions. Yanghee Lee of the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar released a 10 page report, calling the living situation of the camps’ inhabitants “deplorable,” noting concern that “the government’s plan for peaceful co-existence may likely result in a permanent segregation” of the two groups.

Ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the dominant Rakhine Buddhists spans back a few years. It erupted in 2012, leaving 200 dead and an estimated 140,000 internally displaced – 135,000 of which were Rohingya. The clash between the ethnic groups left the bitter taste of mistrust in the mouths of both sides, with one side much more disadvantaged than the other.

The Rohingya suffer from continued apathy and exclusion on part of the Rakhine, and face the threat of violent attacks if they cross the wrong person, keeping them isolated in their lacking communities. They essentially live as prisoners, eating only donated rice and chickpeas, fishing their protein from the nearby ocean.

Ethnic persecution is systemic in Myanmar, to the point where those in the minority group are not even recognized as citizens by the government. They are classified as illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore have no legal rights or representation. They severely lack the means to sustain themselves.

Conditions have reached such a critical point in recent years that tens of thousands have tried fleeing by boat. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslims in Myanmar.

“By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continues to face systematic discrimination, which includes restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registrations,” said Lee in her report.

Myanmar is a country of 55 million people. In sheer numbers alone, it is clear what the Rohingya are up against as the nation’s abhorred minority. Years of military rule subjected them to hard labor, rape, torture and relocation, extending from a 1982 citizenship law that declared them stateless. However, the increasingly democratic reform of its government brings some hope.

Many Rohingya retain complete skepticism of the future and MSF is “cautiously optimistic” about their invitation to return. However, it appears that the bind of Myanmar’s displaced Muslims may quickly improve with increased international attention and the possibility of greater involvement by the United States.

“We’re working to continually help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Myanmar. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Reuters, Helsinki Times, Al Jazeera
Photo: Reuters

journalists jailed in myanmar
Public demonstrations and collective anger arose mid-July after the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma, handed down 10-year jail sentences to five journalists accused of violating state secrets.

The four reporters and chief executive of current affairs at magazine Unity Weekly published stories in January alleging that the government had grabbed large swaths of land to construct a chemical weapons factory.

The government convicted the journalists on the grounds of a 1923 State Secrets Law, a law from the British colonial days. United Weekly has since been shut down.

A January 25 story published in Unity Weekly referenced local villagers that stated that Chinese technicians frequently appeared at a facility that was creating chemical weapons.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement July 10 expressing outrage at the conviction and the sentence.

“The conviction should shatter any illusions that President Thein Sein’s government grasps the role of a free press in a democracy,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said.

Dietz said the international community should act in response to the verdict to “not only get this decision reversed, but to impress upon the government that its anti-media stance will jeopardize future economic assistance.”

To many observers, the move on behalf of the government to implement strict punishments to the journalists is a disparaging albeit curious decision. In recent years, the Myanmar government promised to enact substantial reforms to promote freedom of the press within the country.

President Thein Sein has enacted a number of attempted reforms since taking the oath of office in 2011. These include the release of journalists jailed under the previous military regime, the ending of pre-publication censorship of local press and the lifting of some Internet restrictions.

Yet some, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, have expressed doubts as to whether Thein Sein’s reforms are legitimate and long-lasting, especially in the face of last week’s conviction. Currently, Myanmar is ranked 145 out of a possible 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, an aggregate of the press freedoms of 180 different countries.

Barring domestic protests and calls for reform, the coming weeks and months will determine whether international reaction and pressure will play a role in reshaping the government’s policies.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: The New York Times, CNN, CPJ 1, CPJ 2
Photo: TodayOnline