In a region with some of the fastest growing and most dynamic economies in the world, Burma stands out as one of the poorest countries in Asia. This is despite positive political and economic reforms which began in 2011 and were designed to foster greater political openness and compliance with international democratic norms. Years of under-investment, persistent conflict and economic mismanagement have created a low base from which to grow economically. Burma’s economy is expected to grow to 6.5 per cent in 2016 to 2017. This is in contrast to the 7.3 per cent growth recorded in 2015-2016 by the World Bank which predicts an average of 7.1 percent   growth per annum in the medium term.

Poverty affects around 26 percent of Burma’s 52 million population, according to the United Nations Development Programme. As 70 percent of the population live in rural areas, the threat of extreme poverty and reduced living standards is disproportionately higher for the rural poor. This is made worse by their reliance on subsistence agriculture, which is prone to natural disasters since Burma has a history of climate extremes. Cyclones in particular impact the livelihoods of the poorest, especially women.

The recent upsurge of violence in Rakhine and northeast Burma shows that the civilian government’s relationship with the military remains precarious. A third of the population lives in conflict-affected areas, many out of the reach of the Burmese state. The peace process will inevitably be slow and could regress – leaving many people in continued danger, unable to live safe lives.

Nevertheless Burma has considerable potential. The Asian Development Bank note that broad economic expansion can be based on abundant natural resources, a strategic location at the crossroads of Asia, a young population, and a sizable market with wide-ranging investment opportunities.

DFID Burma Strategy

Basic services: The UK has helped 617,000 people to gain sustainable access to clean water and/ or sanitation, and aim to reach a further 570,000 people by 2020. The UK has helped 49,000 children to access a decent education and aim to support a further 100,000 by 2020.

Nutrition: UK support has improved nutrition for 438,000 children under 5, women (of childbearing age) and adolescent girls, and the UK aims to reach a further 540,000 people over the next four years.  The UK will support 80,000 women to use modern methods of family planning by 2020.

Humanitarian: 200,000 people have received humanitarian assistance from the UK, and the UK  aims to reach a 400,000 people over the coming four years.

World Bank Doing Business

Although Burma had a marginal increase in its cores in 2018 versus 2017, Burma is still one of the hardest places to do business in Asia. In 2018, the country ranked 171 of 190 economies in the ease of doing business, the second worst performing economy in the East Asia and Pacific Region ahead of Timor L’este. Burma’s score on the Distance to Frontier index is also consistent with its poor ease of doing business rating. It scored 44.2, as against the regional average of 62.7.

The recent introduction of investment climate and business enabling reform programmes to make it easier to start a business, deal with construction permits and get electricity have shown the greatest improvements. Myanmar made registering property less costly by reducing stamp duty and improved access to credit information by adopting a regulation allowing the establishment of credit bureaus.