Frustration foments in Yangon’s slums despite reforms



AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Published — Tuesday 11 December 2012

Last update 11 December 2012 2:59 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

Myanmar’s trumpeted reforms are yet to trickle down to Yangon’s poor, rubbish-strewn slums where experts say residents’ frustrations could turn ugly if the benefits of change are not felt soon.
Each month the bamboo shacks of Shwe Paukan are inundated when high tides overflow from the river running parallel to the slum.
The clean up after the knee-deep waters recede leaves little time for optimism over a reform process that has brought greater political and economic openness to Myanmar, but few signs that the lives of the poorest are about to improve.
“We have not felt the change that everyone is talking about,” said Ni Ni Win, 27, a mother of two.
“I think it has happened among the upper level of the society.”
It is an increasingly common concern and one US President Barack Obama touched on during his milestone Nov. 19 trip to the former junta-ruled country, where he hailed the “remarkable” pace of change but warned reforms must not bypass the poor.
Ni Ni Win, who earns around three dollars a day at a plastic recycling plant, is to a degree fortunate to live in her slum in Yangon, where an estimated two million people live in poverty.
A few kilometers away, near the city center, 400 to 500 people live in Aung Mingalar, an illegal settlement shoehorned between a river and a storage area for teak logs, which also serves as an open toilet. The slum is desperately poor — the earth is studded with rubbish and clothes are hung out to dry on barbed wire.
Amid the squalor residents eke out a few dollars by putrefying fish guts in barrels and selling the leftover oil to chicken farmers.
Ko Ko, 46, said he lives in constant fear his family will be expelled from their home. “We are not living here because we want to but because we have no choice... we can’t pay for a place to live,” he said as a young girl passed by with buckets of water hooked over either end of a stick across her shoulders.
Ko Ko provides for six people from the income from his small grocery stall. “The biggest challenge for us here is food. Every morning people have to struggle for food,” he said.
The United Nations agency for human settlements (UN-HABITAT) estimates that at least 40 percent of Yangon’s five million people are “poor or extremely poor,” surviving “day to day,” often in substandard housing or illegal dwellings.
“Nothing has been done in 20 years,” according to Michael Slingsby, the body’s urban development and poverty adviser.
With the city’s population expected to double to around 10 million over the next 20-25 years, Myanmar’s government will come under increasing pressure to tackle poverty or face mounting discontent among the urban poor.
They are a section of society often-neglected by foreign donors, Slingsby said, in a nation where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line — the majority in rural areas. After more than a year of dramatic political change that has helped the country out of international isolation, President Thein Sein has promised a second wave of reform focused on the economy, with the aim of slashing the poverty rate to sixteen percent by 2015.
It is an “ambitious” goal, says Sean Turnell, an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney, backing Myanmar’s potential to achieve rapid growth and simultaneously reduce poverty.
But that will only be possible with “a focus on agriculture” he says, calling for far-sighted policy to boost a sector which provides a living for the vast majority of Myanmar’s people. The government has been widely praised for major economic initiatives, including unifying multiple exchange rates, and enacting a foreign investment law.
But experts warn that social unrest may lie ahead if the benefits of reform do not trickle down, and fast, to the country’s most disadvantaged.
“This is potentially one of the major issues the reform process may have to face,” said Slingsby.
“Manifestations of discontent with poverty will take place,” said Win Htein, a lower house MP from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, predicting frequent protests as democracy is embedded.
“But they (protests) cannot reach the stage of threatening the government.” It is a warning that comes with recent precedent.
In 2007, a revolt led by Buddhist monks was sparked by anger at a sharp hike in fuel prices. It was brutally stamped out by the junta, but was the most serious challenge to the generals since a popular uprising in 1988. Myanmar’s nominally-civilian new regime has legalized protest allowing the country’s long-suffering people to voice their discontent — notably last spring against crippling power cuts.
In contrast with the dark years of the junta, the response of the new administration was measured, says Turnell, “but there is always a danger” of a return to the repressive reflexes of the past.
The greatest challenges are likely to emerge in fast-growing cities such as Yangon, with the needs of slum communities expected to expand in parallel with their populations.
For now, residents of Shwe Paukan continue to rely on themselves to build a brighter future.
Ni Ni Win joined a savings group set up by the UN-HABITAT where 14 women each put 1,100 kyats, or just over a dollar, each week into a metal box which is then padlocked.
One day they hope to use their accumulated savings to start their own businesses and create a route out of the slum. “They hope their dream becomes a reality,” said Kyi Win, 64, leader of the group, adding they would welcome government help but “we will not live in anticipation” of it.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

Huge projects change the faces of cities and great ambitions help create such projects. Madinah had its date with a quantum leap to usher in a new era of urban development. Such huge projects help achieve formidable civilization advancements and sign...
RIYADH: The Japanese ambassador to the Kingdom, Noriheiro Okoda, has held a meeting with Hashem Abdullah Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE), and discussed bilateral cooperation in the fields of atom...
AL-BAHA: Forty three percent of Al-Baha cannot be developed easily because of the region’s mountainous terrain.This is the view of Khaled Al-Sayegh, undersecretary for construction at the municipality, who was speaking at an event held at the College...
JEDDAH: An official at the Council of Saudi Chambers said the council’s members are discussing a regulation to submit to the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to deny a number of privileges to companies that force its labor to work unde...
ABHA: With many families wanting new furniture during Ramadan, furniture and interior decorating shops are raising prices to more than double what they were before the month.Homeowner Zaina Mohammed says she used to change her home furniture every Ra...
RIYADH: Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) President Prince Sultan bin Salman described the first visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Madinah as “historic.”In his comments following the visit which saw th...
MADINAH: Economists expected the volume of investments in Madinah’s economies during the coming few years to reach SR500 billion.The forecasted growth in the population, to reach 2.6 million people after 25 years, and the number of visitors to 12.2 m...
JEDDAH: It seems that many Saudi families are gradually coming to terms with the new reality of living in apartments, as building villas is not possible due to shortage of appropriate land.With the increasing display of housing units by the Ministry...
RIYADH: Migrant rights advocacy group Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) has lambasted their country’s leadership over the claim that the number of overseas Filipino workers are declining due to sustained economic growth in the Philippines.The group has cal...
RIYADH: A charitable foundation called “Smile” will be launched on Sunday night at the Al-Hokair Land in the Saudi capital to make people happy. “The foundation will be launched to make Saudi Arabia a center of smiles,” well-known television host and...
MAKKAH: The Kingdom has seen a sharp rise in the number of Umrah pilgrims to around 6 million from 1.5 million in the last 16 years. Moreover, the number of pilgrims overstaying their visas has come down to about 1 percent. The Ministry of Haj has be...
RIYADH: The King Khalid Foundation (KKF) said here recently that it has financed small enterprises (SMEs) run by 130 widows in some of the Kingdom’s provinces.KKF hosted an iftar party last week for local media at its headquarters in Riyadh at which...
JEDDAH: Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz bin Musaed, governor of the Northern Borders province, has died.He will be buried after Taraweeh prayers in Jeddah on Saturday, the Royal Court said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. No other det...
RIYADH: The Ministry of Education has suspended all parallel education programs, except in medical and engineering specialties, as well as bridging programs for health diploma certificates.Education Minister Azzam Al-Dhakil gave directions to the rec...
RIYADH: The Cooperative Health Insurance Council said it had suspended operations of six medical insurance companies for violating health insurance regulations by issuing insurance policies without completing the required documentation and violating...

Stay Connected

Facebook