UNDP warns middle class ‘disappearing’ in Myanmar, cites brutal fighting

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Anjali Sharma

GG News Bureau
UNITED NATIONS, 12th April.
UN Development Programme on Thursday has warned that poverty is surging and the middle class in Myanmar is “disappearing” amidst worsening insecurity and conflict.

UNDP in a new report published on Thursday said that the middle class has shrunk by half, compared with before the 2021 military coup, and that three quarters of the population is either living in poverty or “perilously close” to the national poverty line.

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator said that “The new data showed that less than 25 per cent of the population in Myanmar manage to secure steady incomes to live above the poverty line. Without immediate interventions to provide cash transfers, food security and access to basic services, vulnerability will keep growing, and impacts will be felt across generations”.

According to UNDP estimates, $4 billion per year is required to address ballooning poverty, via cash transfers and other means, to help families recover from the “L-shaped” recession amid plummeting economic activity and few signs of recovery.

“We call on all stakeholders – inside and outside Myanmar – to take action and preserve vulnerable households from slipping into irreversible poverty and despair” Mr. Steiner urged.

The report also found that families and households have been forced to resort to various, often unsustainable, coping mechanisms and polling over 12,000 households across Myanmar.

Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, explained the dire situation.

“During the COVID-19 [pandemic], the spending on education was meagre two to three per cent of household’s income – it is now close to zero,” she said, adding that families are pulling children out of school and unable to spend on healthcare and other basic services.

“We are going to see a whole generation that just has a learning and health deficit that is very scary,” she warned.

The report has also revealed an alarming picture at the provincial level.

The states with the lowest rates of per capita income are Kayah, Chin, and Sagaing regions experiencing high levels of conflict between the junta forces and groups opposing.

In addition to heightened poverty levels, conflict-ridden were also marked by destruction of homes, restricted access to farmlands and an increase in internally displaced people all leading to yet more hardship.

Ms. Wignaraja said IDPs arriving in urban centres such as Yangon and Mandalay, both for safety and basic services, no longer have any safety net.

Mr. Steiner emphasized the challenges posed by skyrocketing criminality in Myanmar.

She cited the findings by the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes that Myanmar is the largest producer of opium and the massive proliferation of organized crime, especially the so called “scam centres”.

“If these illegal economic activities where there is a lot of money involved are not curbed, and we cannot restart intensive international and regional mediation efforts to stop the ongoing war, the story of Myanmar is going to be of the disappeared middle [class],” Ms. Wignaraja said.

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