YANGON — The number of people in Myanmar living in poverty has decreased from 32 percent of the population in 2004 to 19 percent in 2015, according to a recent report.
The World Bank and the Ministry of Planning and Finance analyzed data on living conditions from surveys conducted in Myanmar in 2004-5, 2009-10, and 2015.
Household spending has increased by 1.4 percent annually and living standards have improved according to a number of indicators—including the sales of mobile phones, televisions, and motorcycles.
More than 42 percent of households owned a motorcycle in 2015, compared with just 25 percent in 2009.
The report states, however, that 37 percent of people in Myanmar still live on or near the poverty line, meaning they remain vulnerable to poverty.
“We are encouraged by the decline in poverty, moving ahead it will be critical to ensure that economic reforms continue to reach everyone in Myanmar,” said U Kyaw Win, Union Minister for Ministry of Planning and Finance.
The report was compiled using two different methodologies: The Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey conducted in 2004-5 and a second method introduced by the World Bank in 2009-10.
Using the second method, poverty went down from 44.5 percent in 2004-5 to 37.5 percent in 2009-10 and 26.1 percent in 2015.
The report shows that rural poverty declined slower than in urban areas in the same time frame—from 36 percent to 23 percent in rural areas compared to 22 percent to 9 percent in urban areas.
This reflects growth in the respective areas—1.1 percent per year in rural areas compared to 1.9 percent in urban areas—fueled by greater development in manufacturing and services than in agriculture.
After 2010, the garment sector improved significantly and created many jobs, according to Dr. Khin Maung Aye, a central executive committee member of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA).
“In the garment sector, there was a major increase in order rates and product quality after 2012. No doubt that could have helped reduce poverty through employment,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Most garment factories are based in Yangon and Mandalay regions, according to MGMA, although recently factories have opened in Irrawaddy and Bago regions.
“There are some problems with transportation costs in opening garment factories in other states and regions though opening them could create job opportunities for locals and help develop the areas,” said Dr. Khin Maung Aye.
Upper House lawmaker Sai One Hlaing Kham of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) said people’s living conditions had improved in non-conflict areas of Shan State.
“A lot of young people from Shan State went to China or Thailand as migrant workers, they sent their income back to their families, and then new buildings appeared,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“Consumption rates also increased in the last decade.”
Sai One Hlaing Kham said: “We can see improvement in non-conflict areas. My question is, is this real improvement? We have lost manpower in the country because we can’t create job opportunities in our own area and country. On the other hand, migrants face exploitation and lose their citizens’ rights because most of them migrate illegally.”
The government’s technical and financial support is still needed to boost production and create jobs, which would reduce poverty in the area, he said.
Karen and Mon states are among the highest producers of migrants in Myanmar, which some observers say has brought money and development to the states, with almost everyone able to access phones and transport.
“We can see the improvement of buildings in our area. Many people own motorbikes here,” said Ko Tun Myint, chairperson of Mon Youth Network in Mudon Township.
But, he added, “nowadays there is too much crime such as robbery and theft in the area, showing that people are still suffering from poverty.”
Ko Tun Myint said young people believe “the government can create better job opportunities by supporting the technology and finance industries” in order to boost the quality and production of the many rubber plantations in the region.
The report is the first of a two-part series on poverty assessment that recommends a revision of poverty measurements for Myanmar. Part two of the assessment will be released in late 2017.