The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge nearly half of Myanmar’s population into poverty and reverse the economic gains made over the past 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
“The ongoing political crisis will undoubtedly further exacerbate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and lower incomes,” the UNDP said in a report released on Friday (PDF).
In the organization’s worst case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, equivalent to around 26 million people, could live in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, according to UNDP.
The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyat (USD 1) per day in 2017.
The political crisis is likely to hit small businesses acutely and, according to UNDP, lead to lost wages and a decline in access to food, basic services and social protection.
Women who bear the brunt of the burden
As a result, women and children are expected to face the worst of the two crises.
“The effects of COVID-19, compounded by the impact of the fall of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.
“This has to do with the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor take place, have been zeroed for the pandemic and focus of the heaviest raids,” the report’s authors wrote.
Mass protests in Myanmar’s capitals against the coup were faced with tough military crackdowns that resulted in hundreds of deaths [File: AFP]Even before the recent events, a third of Myanmar’s population was “living on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty,” the agency said.
According to UNDP, more than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the beginning of 2020.
Myanmar fell into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup sparked a civil disobedience movement and mass protests across the country, to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since the Aung San Suu Kyi government was removed. His records show 3,461 in custody.
Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the beginning of the year.
The United Nations Food Agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup have undermined the ability of poor families to feed themselves.
The World Food Program (WFP) announced that food prices have risen, with palm oil increasing 20 percent in some locations in the capital Yangon since early February and rice prices in the Yangon and Mandalay areas increasing 4 percent since late February.
Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large swaths of the country’s economy with interests in Myanmar’s cellular phone system, tourism, food and beverage sectors and its lucrative gem mining industries. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands that have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labor, have also reassessed their exposure to the country, likely adding further pressure to the economy and its workers.