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With its abundance of natural resources, Burma was once among the most prosperous countries in Southeast Asia. But, 50 years of strict military rule have had a catastrophic effect on the country and turned Burma into one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Whilst Burma’s economy is now growing rapidly in the wake of drastic political reforms, more than a quarter of the population remains below the poverty line.
This week the DVB Debate person panel consists of: Daw Khin Waing Kyi of the Rural Development and Redacting Poverty Committee; Aung Thu Nyein, a senior research fellow for Myanmar Development Resource Institute; Yuza Maw Htoon, the director of Mingalar Myanmar; and Dr. Soe Tun, president of the Myanmar Farmers Association.
Special guests include UNDP’s Senior Economic Advisor Daniel Kostzer; the secretary-general of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, Win Kyaing; and Su Su Nway from the Farmers Union Organising Committee.
“If the economy of the whole country develops, people will escape poverty,” says development researcher Aung Thu Nyein, “so we need to make that happen”.
But some panelists disagree and raise concerns that, although the country is getting richer, inequality is increasing.
“Even if the GDP increases the income per capita won’t increase – it’s not possible to reduce poverty just by raising GDP,” says Soe Tun.
Since 2012, the government says it has reduced the percentage of people living in poverty from 32 percent to 26 percent. It says they hope to reduce it to 16 percent by 2015. However, some audience members question the accuracy of government’s figures and criticise their policy-led approach, saying there should be less research and more action.
“The data collection organised by the government – is it factual? Is it accurate?” asks Dr. Phone Win, the director of the International Centre of Excellence at Yangon University.
“The people have the capacity!” says Phone Win. “Those who may not have such capacity are the parliament and the government administration.”
MP Khin Waing Kyi from the parliamentary committee for poverty reduction insists that they are trying to work at a grassroots level, but they don’t have the resources.
“What I’m trying to say is that we want to go to the people, but we don’t have enough money or time, and the situation doesn’t make it possible.”
Later in the show, the studio is divided on whether microfinance is the best way to tackle poverty. Yuza Maw Htoon, who runs rural development organisation Mingalar Myanmar specializing in microfinance, says that helping people develop businesses is what is needed to pull the country out of poverty.
“If the private sector is allowed to develop then employment will rise, and if they ensure fair competition then the government quality will actually increase.”
However others disagree.
“It’s not just microfinance but other social intervention is necessary,” says Save the Children’s Nutrition Program Advisor Nicholus Tint Zaw, explaining that poverty is directly linked to issues such as malnutrition. “Social protection and knowledge training will have a bigger effect,” he says.
Many areas of Burma are difficult to access and in some regions over half the population live in poverty. The audience and the panellists all seems to agree that more than one approach will be needed to solve the poverty crisis.
You can join the debate and watch the full programme in Burmese at dvbdebate.com
Or share your views with us by commenting on our website at dvb.no