Almost Half of Myanmar’s Population Face Poverty Next Year: UN Report
By The Irrawaddy 1 May 2021
The impacts of military rule and the COVID-19 pandemic could force nearly half of Myanmar’s population into poverty by 2022, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has reported.
The UNDP said a year into the coronavirus crisis, the Feb. 1 coup compounded its socioeconomic effects. “If the situation on the ground persists, the poverty rate could double by the beginning of 2022,” it warned in the report published on Friday.
Myanmar has 54.5 million people, according to the World Bank. The country has been under the military rule for three months on Saturday.
“In the worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population will live in poverty,” the report said. It said the twin crises were causing significant losses of wages and income, particularly for small businesses, and restricted access to food, basic services and social protection for the wider population.
Achim Steiner, the UNDP’s administrator, said: “From 2005 to 2017, Myanmar managed to nearly halve the number of people living in poverty. However, the challenges of the past 12 months have put all of these hard-won development gains at risk.
“Without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation,” Steiner said.
Myanmar, a least developed country, has made significant achievements in poverty reduction over the last decade. In 2017, Myanmar had a poverty rate of 24.8 percent, down from 48.2 percent in 2005.
By the end of 2020, 83 percent of Myanmar’s households reported that their incomes had been, on average, almost halved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the number of people living below the poverty line was estimated to have increased by 11 percentage points, according to the UNDP.
The situation worsened further with the February coup, with projections indicating a further 12 percentage point increase in poverty, the UNDP reported.
It warned that all economic reports since the coup indicated that country is approaching economic collapse.
Last year, Myanmar’s GDP growth has fallen to 1.8 percent due to the effects of COVID-19, however, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank were forecasting a bounce back to 6 percent growth this year.
The World Bank has since projected that Myanmar’s economic growth is set to shrink by 10 percent this financial year as military rule hammers what was one of the region’s fastest-growing economies.
It said protests, strikes, military action, reductions in mobility and disruption to public services, like banking, logistics and internet access, would crush economic activity.
Following the coup, foreign direct investment dried up, including in existing projects, as western countries imposed sanctions on the military regime. Nearly 200,000 garment workers and around 300,000 to 400,000 construction workers lost their jobs following the coup, according to trade unions.
The UNDP said women and children are expected to be hit heaviest by COVID-19 and military rule, especially in urban areas, where most low-income families live. Myanmar’s cities have also been at the center of the coronavirus outbreaks and military crackdowns.
“Child poverty is expected to remain high, with more than half of children living in poverty in the pessimistic scenario. This will further exacerbate the intergenerational transmission of poverty, which, coupled with potential school closures, may have a devastating impact on the human capital of the next generation,” UNDP said.
Without rapid corrective action on economic, social, political and human rights policies, these scenarios will derail Myanmar’s efforts to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the agency reported.
International support will play an important role in safeguarding the well-being of Myanmar’s population, it added.
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