Three years after the coup, 42 million Burmese face poverty

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has announced that Myanmar’s middle class is shrinking rapidly, having halved in size in three years.

According to a report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on June 24, of the total population of 55.8 million, 42 million people, or 75 percent, live in poverty, and more than 13 million people are food insecure.

It is the lower classes who are suffering the most from the country’s economic decline, and they are becoming very poor.

The economic crisis and rising commodity prices have led to rising poverty rates.

A housewife from Bagu said people are suffering badly due to the current price hike and shortage of goods.

“Prices are rising. In 2021, a loaf of bread was only $300-400. Now it’s $1,500. Cucumbers used to cost 100 tonnes, now it’s $500. Duck eggs are already $500-600. Oil is something we can’t buy even in Bago where we live. We’ve run out of fuel, there’s a shortage and everything is in chaos.”

Along with the political and economic crisis, unemployment is one of the factors that has led to the rise in poverty in Myanmar.

A housewife in Yangon said the economic crisis and the military council’s military service law were driving young people to seek work abroad.

“My nephews and nieces have to go to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore to work. They are such perfect people. But things have become difficult. No one wants to go, neither their parents nor their children. So they use their knowledge to look for work abroad. There are no employment opportunities here. Wages and incomes are no longer in balance. Before, $10,000 could feed a family for three days. Now $10,000 can only feed a family for one day. We can’t survive here anymore.”

Economic analysts say this is due to the military council’s mismanagement of the economy, economic decline and wrong solutions.

Political analyst Dr Sai Kyi Zin Soe said the military council’s control of finances in particular had a major impact on Myanmar’s economy.

“The economic decline is also known through inflation. On the one hand, we know that people are earning less than they did before the last coup. In general, employment opportunities are gone, business opportunities are gone, sales and purchases are down. Mismanagement. Problems with financial management, problems with loss of trust in banks, especially the Central Bank’s control of the exchange rate of Myanmar’s currency. We know that these are having a big impact.”

The UNDP said the size of Myanmar’s middle class is shrinking as conflict and economic problems worsen. Political analyst Than Soe Naing said Myanmar’s current situation may be larger than the UNDP estimated.

“The middle class is no longer able to achieve business results, and no longer has the ability to exercise power in any field. Imports needed for business are extremely expensive. Electricity is only available for an average of four hours a day. Foreign companies that had invested have withdrawn, and industries and fields that were generating income no longer have jobs. They are facing such a situation. The UNDP figures are merely averages, and we expect the actual situation to be even worse.”

Economist Sein Htay also said Myanmar’s current economic crisis was affecting the lower classes and the situation could be worse than the UNDP statement said.

“Before they seized power, a quarter of Myanmar’s population lived in poverty. More than two years after the coup, we are back to half that. Six months on from that, what state is the country in? We are at under 75% because of food shortages and insufficient supplies. According to a World Bank announcement in December, the lower classes are the ones most affected by the country’s economic downturn, with prices of rice rising by more than 20% and oil prices doubling and tripling. The lower classes are becoming very poor.”

Violence has intensified in Myanmar since the military coup in 2021. The World Bank also points out that labor shortages and a weak currency are making it difficult to do business in the country.

Moreover, a World Bank report released on June 12 estimated that 32% of Myanmar’s population will live in poverty by the beginning of 2024, and another third could fall into poverty.

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