COVID-19, coup pushing half of Myanmar into poverty: UNDP

Nearly half of Myanmar’s population is at risk of falling into poverty by 2022 if the twin impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing political crisis there will not be abated, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report warns.

As much as 25 million people will become poor by next year as the country regresses in its poverty reduction efforts with both crises pulling it back to a level of impoverishment not seen since 2005.

“In the space of 12 years, 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,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said in a separate press statement.

“The combined effects of COVID-19 and the political crisis have caused a systemic shock which could lead to a long-lasting disruption in Myanmar’s development trajectory, unless addressed and resolved soon,” said Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

According to the report published on April 30, about 83% of households last year said their incomes were almost halved due to the pandemic. Overall socio-economic effects of the health contagion caused an estimated 11% points rise from 6% in the number of Burmese people living below the poverty line last year.

In addition, the worsening security, human rights, and development situation in the country since the February 1 coup could add 12% points in the number of its poor citizens by early next year.

A series of political unrest in Myanmar followed its military’s declaration of a coup d’etat, which started with the arrest of its elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Presently, around 3,700 individuals were arrested and 774 were killed by the regime now led by Min Aung Hlaing, based on tally by Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

in late April, Southeast Asian leaders came up with a five-point consensus that primarily calls for an end to the political crisis in the country through a dialogue among parties to be brokered by a special envoy.

“Without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation,” Steiner exclaimed.

The UNDP report highlighted that Burmese women and children will be heavily burdened by the public health and political crises with more than half of children projected to live in poverty within the year.

Meanwhile, 3.4 million more Myanmar citizens were seen to go hungry by yearend given the persisting hunger and combined health and political crises, according to the United Nations (UN).

“More and more poor people have lost their jobs and are unable to afford food,” said UN World Food Programme Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson. The UN food assistance branch noted the average price of rice in the country rose by 5% since January, while average cooking oil price shot up by 18% since February.

Myanmar’s economy is expected to contract by 9.8% this year, while the rest of Southeast Asian economies are projected to rebound, based on recent outlook from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“The reintroduction of stricter measures to contain the second wave of infections since late August 2020 and the current political unrest will severely depress domestic production, incomes, and spending,” the ADB report said.

The multilateral lender also projected Myanmar’s inflation to quicken to 6.2% this year from 5.7% previously due to disruptions in supply chains and a weak currency.

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