Myanmar was listed on the list of priority countries of Polish development cooperation in 2016. Polish assistance in this country will focus on supporting two thematic areas: human capital and entrepreneurship and the private sector.
Under the human capital priority, the development cooperation for Myanmar will serve the following objectives: “improving healthcare services for mothers and children and improving access to high quality education at all levels” and “supporting social integration of persons belonging to groups at risk of exclusion”. It will be of key importance for this thematic area to achieve the following results:
- increasing access to better healthcare services for mothers and children;
- improving teaching conditions and quality at all levels of education;
- improved access to social services for persons belonging to groups at risk of exclusion.
Myanmar has the lowest indicator of social development in the region. In the HDI ranking (Human Development Index 2014) kept by UNDP, which every year monitors the social-economic development of the countries in the world, this country takes the 148th position (out of 188) with a result of 0.536, while the average for the East Asia and Pacific is 0.710 (source). In 2015, GDP per capita, calculated according to the purchasing power parity is USD 5,469, while the average for ASEAN-5 (Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand) exceeded USD 11,000 (source). As regards GNI per capita, which was USD 1,270 in 2014, Myanmar was on the 178th place, second to last in the ASEAN-10 countries (source). Participation of the population living in poverty compared with the total population in 2014 was 26%, and it was twice as high in rural than in municipal areas (source).
Out of the ASEAN countries, Myanmar has had the shortest life expectancy and the second mortality rate among infants and children up to 5 years of age (source). Despite significant progress in many areas of the Millennium Development Goals (between 1990 and 2010, we managed to lower the number of deaths among children below 5 years of age from 100 to 52 out of 1000 live births), infant mortality and maternal mortality are still very high. Only 71% of babies are delivered by OB personnel (source).
In line with the Myanmar’s constitution, each child has access to mandatory education at the primary level. It has a positive effect on the universality of education: in 2014 the net school enrolment indicator among primary school students was 94.53% (source). The sector’s problem lies in low quality of education, low investment in education, and high inequalities in the access to education between the regions. According to the data of 2000, 90% children from cities and only 72% of children from rural areas had the chance of completing primary education (source).
In order to improve the social situation in Myanmar, it is necessary to increase public spending in the health and education sectors. In the recent years, the Burmese government undertook decisive actions, striving to engage public funds to benefit these two public policies. For example, an education review is being conducted (Comprehensive Education Sector Review), which will help to work on a reform programme. In line with the most recent details available for the period of 2005-2014, the public expense on education was only 0.8% of GDP in Myanmar and was the lowest in the region (source). The level of public investment in the health sector is also very low. In 2014, the level of public spending in the healthcare sector was 1.8% GDP, which placed Myanmar on the last place in the ASEAN-10 group in terms of the participation of expenses on health relative to GDP (on average in ASEAN-10 group, the countries spent slightly over 4% of GDP on healthcare) (source).
As regards the thematic priority entrepreneurship and the private sector and the objectives “supporting the local private sector and the development of entrepreneurship” it is vital to achieve the following results:
- improved entrepreneurship levels, in particular among youth and women, new jobs created in rural areas;
- improved access to high-quality technical education and vocational training;
- improved competition, capacity and innovation levels of producers’ groups, cooperatives and labour cooperatives, in particular in the agri-food sector.
The economy of Myanmar is based on the agricultural sector. According to the official estimates of 2010, the participation of agriculture in GDP of Myanmar was almost 37%, industry – 26%, and services – 37%. 52% of the vocationally active population was working in agriculture, 36% – in services, and only 12% – in industry (source).
In the social-economic aspect, the development challenges of Myanmar also include the particularly low labour productivity. In the majority of the countries, labour productivity in agriculture is much higher than in Myanmar; in the services sector Maynmar has the lowest labour productivity out of all countries of East Asia, whereas in the industry – second to last, just before Cambodia (source).
In order to improve the economic competitiveness of Myanmar, also in the agricultural sector, it is necessary to invest in the development of professional qualifications and practical skills of persons entering the labour market. Educating the workforce and directing it towards minor industry will contribute to strengthening the other sectors of the economy (industry and services).
The objectives of Polish development cooperation for Myanmar are consistent with the diagnosis included in the World Bank Group’s report Myanmar: Empowering People for Inclusive Growth. In line with the recommendations included in the document, actions to support the development of this country should facilitate activation of the agricultural areas and to improve the quality of life in rural areas, development of human capital, relevant democratic social institutions, and to facilitate the establishment of a dynamic private sector and the creation of jobs.