Myanmar, mainland Southeast Asia’s biggest and poorest country, is developing at breakneck speed after its transition to democracy after decades of military rule began in 2011, but a new study found that an aging population and widespread poverty could stand in the way of sustainable and equitable progress.
The study, jointly launched by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, explored how Myanmar can create a multi-pronged development strategy that leverages its rich natural resources, cheap and well-trained labor force, and vibrant cultural heritage to catalyze economic growth that reaches the country’s bottom-of-the-pyramid, which now makes up about a quarter of the population.
Myanmar, which ranks 149th out of 186 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index, can use a development boost. With over 676,000 square kilometers of land area, the country has a per capita gross national income of $1,817, the lowest among its neighbors. While the conflict-ridden country has fared well in the area of gender equality, development has been “uneven between rural and urban areas, and between the center and the periphery” with landlessness affecting about a third of rural households, according to the report.
The OECD-UNESCAP study also says about Myanmar:
- Population will begin aging by 2017, when the percentage of the population aged 10-64 begins steadily dropping below 78 percent
- Key development challenges are building up institutional and social capital
- Inequitable access to public goods and services that contributes to the widespread prevalence of poverty
Greater public consultation on new laws would enhance voice and transparency, thereby strengthening the rule of law
Need for better tools for environmental policy to cope not only with the expected effects of rapid urbanization but also those of climate change
“Thus, a multi-pronged strategy, based on extractive industries, mainly serving as a catalyst, as well as on agriculture, manufacturing and services appears the best choice to bring about sustainable and equitable development,” said OECD senior economist Margit Molnar.
Molnar told Devex that the recent review answered a call from development partners at the first Myanmar Development Cooperation Forum in January for broader assessments and studies about the country’s development.
“We will collaborate with donors in the coming phases and many already expressed interest in using the results of the multi-dimensional review in their implementation,” she added.
The next phase of the multi-dimensional review will involve a study of “how to transform the economy and society from an agriculture-based to an industry- and manufactured-based one, what skills are needed for this change, and how to finance development for the most productive use.” When it is completed in a year’s time, it will feature more in-depth analysis and recommendations expected to steer the direction of assistance of bilateral donors to the country.
In the meantime, Molnar urged bilateral donors to coordinate more with the Myanmar government: “So far, a large deal of bilateral assistance has been quite scattered, provided through NGOs. With the new regime, it is desirable to make any effort consistent across programs and implemented in collaboration with the government.”
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