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Myanmar: double coup and Covid crises could push half the population into poverty, UN warns


Rising food costs, significant losses in income and wages, the collapse of basic services such as banks and health care, and an inadequate social safety net are likely to push millions of already vulnerable people under. the poverty line of $ 1.10 per day – with women and children among the hardest hit.

This level of impoverishment has not been observed in Myanmar since 2005, when the country was an isolated and outcast nation ruled by a previous military regime, he said.

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said it was clear “that we are grappling with an unfolding tragedy”.

“We have fractured supply chains, (disrupted) the movement of people and the flow of goods and services, the banking system essentially suspended, remittances not reaching people, social security payments that would have been available to the poorest households are not paid. These are just a few of the immediate impacts, ”Steiner said. “The protracted political crisis will obviously worsen the situation.”

Myanmar has made solid progress in reducing poverty, especially since the start of a democratic transition from military rule in 2011, which has resulted in economic and political reforms.

Over the past 15 years, the country has effectively halved its poverty rate from 48.2 percent in 2005 to 24.8 percent in 2017, according to the report. It was still considered one of the poorest countries in Asia, but, with an estimated third of the population living on such low or precarious income, it was at an economic shock far from being sent back into poverty.

For many, that shock came in the form of the global coronavirus pandemic. The lockdowns and containment measures have disrupted supply chains, so businesses – especially in retail, manufacturing and exports, as well as small businesses, market vendors, hairdressers and tailors – suffered. By December of last year, more than 420,000 migrant workers had returned home.

By the end of the year, 83% of Myanmar households said their incomes had been cut by about half due to the pandemic, according to the report.

The second shock came on the morning of February 1, when the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, seized power, toppling the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and his National League party for democracy and installing a military junta.
The following months saw continued protests against his rule and the rise of a civil disobedience movement in which thousands of blue and white collar workers, including doctors, teachers, government officials and factory workers, gathered. went on strike in an attempt to disrupt the economy. and overthrowing the general.
Security forces brutally suppressed protests with murderous and systematic crackdowns in which police and soldiers shot dead in the streets and arbitrarily detained suspected opponents. More than 750 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and more than 4,500 arrested, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners advocacy group.

The pandemic’s aggravated economic crises and the risk of a military takeover completely wipe out Myanmar’s progress in poverty reduction, the report says – and the number of people living in poverty in the country is likely to double by next year.

The impact of the pandemic alone would have reduced Myanmar’s poverty level from 24.8 percent to 36.1 percent, according to the UNDP. If the massive economic and social disruption of the coup continues, it increases further to 48.2%.

“By then, the shock of the crisis will have resulted in significant losses of wages and income, especially for small businesses, and reduced access to food, basic services and social protection. “, says the report.

Myanmar: double coup and Covid crises could push half the population into poverty, UN warns

Urban poverty is expected to triple as cities have been hit hardest by Covid-19 and remain at the center of the most severe military repressions.

According to the study, women and children will carry the heaviest weight. Myanmar already has high rates of child poverty and the combined crises “put an entire generation at risk,” the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said. Rising poverty means children are less likely to stay in school, and the loss of essential education and health care services, for example, will have “profound physical, psychological, educational and social repercussions. economic ”.

Households headed by women are more vulnerable, the report adds, as women are more likely to be employed in sectors affected by the coronavirus, such as the clothing industry. And women disproportionately bear the burden of household chores associated with Covid-19, such as caring for sick or home-schooled children, forcing many to drop out of the workforce, according to the report.

The two crises are not independent of each other. The overthrow of the civilian government has already magnified the impacts of the coronavirus – tests for Covid-19 have collapsed since the coup, doctors say.

Meanwhile, the takeover has “derailed” any hope of a post-pandemic recovery, according to the report. The deterioration in security conditions has resulted in a further disruption of supply chains already disrupted by Covid. Major ports are paralyzed as customs officers, dockworkers, truck drivers and railway workers stop work.

Some shipping companies have temporarily halted services to the country, according to the report. About 80% of Myanmar’s trade is carried by sea, and UNDP estimated that port trade fell 64% in the two months following the coup.

Myanmar: double coup and Covid crises could push half the population into poverty, UN warns

Similar disruptions in transportation and the movement of labor and goods, as well as pressure on the country’s currency, the kyat, have also hit Myanmar’s agricultural industry, on which 70% of the population depend. for their livelihood.

“In Burmese society, this is a major setback, not only in terms of development, but also in terms of inequality and vulnerability,” Steiner said. “People will have a hard time surviving.”

A humanitarian crisis unfolds as a result. The United Nations World Food Program warned last week that “hunger and despair” were on the rise in Myanmar and predicted that up to 3.4 million people will suffer across the country over the next six months.

“Overall, Myanmar is on the brink of economic collapse and risks becoming the next failed state in Asia,” the UNDP report said.

To reach its conclusions, UNDP used a range of sources, including data published by the World Bank, the Brookings Institution, reports from other UN agencies, media reports and household surveys in the United States. Myanmar.

Because real-time data is hard to come by, the UNDP said if the multiple crises of Covid-19, human rights, democratization and security spread even further, estimates could be worse than expected – especially for vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and internally displaced persons.

“A lot will depend on what happens in Myanmar over the next two months,” Steiner said.

CNN’s Begona Blanco Munoz contributed.

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