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A group of families living in poverty in Yangon, Myanmar.
Image: Flickr/International Labour Organization
NewsDemand Equity

Myanmar's COVID-19 Crisis and Military Coup Could Push Half the Population Into Poverty


Why Global Citizens Should Care
COVID-19 lockdown measures, coupled with the military coup, have threatened Myanmar’s progress to achieve the UN’s Global Goals. As the country’s population is forced into poverty levels not seen in years, vulnerable populations will be the most impacted. The UN has called for international support to help Myanmar, which can start by ending the pandemic for all. Join us by taking action on this issue here.

The military coup in Myanmar, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause nearly half of the country’s population to live below the national poverty line by early 2022, according to a report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Prior to the pandemic, Myanmar had improved its poverty levels, according to CNN, reducing them by 23.4% over a 12-year period. But the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 regulations stressed Myanmar’s economy.

The country’s lockdown measures caused disruptions to the supply chain, higher prices for imported goods, and small businesses to collapse. By the end of 2020, 83% of Myanmar’s households reported that their incomes had been reduced by almost half.

In February, Myanmar’s army orchestrated a coup, taking over the government and leading to pro-democracy protests throughout the country. To date, more than 750 people have died and thousands have been arrested, according to the nonprofit organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

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Together, the military’s rule and COVID-19 have plunged Myanmar further into levels of poverty “not seen in a generation,” according to UN News. Several factors are contributing to rising poverty, including high costs of food, loss of income and wages, and inadequate social services, such as the country’s health care system.

The report says women and children will be hit the hardest. Gender equality and equal opportunities for women are expected to decrease, with the risks of gender-based violence becoming more prevalent. Urban poverty is also projected to rise, putting 52.3% of Myanmar’s children in poverty.

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

“Without rapid corrective actions on economic, social, political, and human rights protection policies, these scenarios will put Myanmar’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 well out of reach.”

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In response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar, the UN has called for multilateral action.

“I have repeatedly called on the international community to work, collectively and through bilateral channels, to help bring an end to the violence and the repression by the military,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

International support will be crucial in supporting Myanmar’s population, particularly since the UNDP noted that the country’s future poverty levels are just estimates based on the current situation.

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If the COVID-19 crisis or human rights violations become worse over the next few months, levels may be higher than currently predicted. This is especially true for marginalized populations and ethnic minorities, who remain the most vulnerable.

“Much will depend on what's happening in Myanmar over the next two months,” Achim Steiner, administrator of the UNDP, told CNN.