Myanmar strife sending more people to poverty

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Political turmoil and disruptions following the coup in Myanmar could undo years of progress and double the number of its people living in poverty to nearly half the population, a United Nations report said Friday.

The report by the U.N. Development Program, or UNDP, said 12 million people could fall into dire economic straits as businesses remain shuttered in a standoff between the junta and a mass civil disobedience movement.

“The hardest hit will be poor urban populations and the worst affected will be female heads of household,” Kanni Wignaraja, the UNDP’s assistant secretary-general for the region, said via a Zoom recording.

The Feb. 1 coup wrested power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained along with more than 3,400 other people. Since then, the military has severely restricted internet access and gradually stepped up violent repression of protests.

Many factories, offices, banks and other facilities have closed and trade has been disrupted by work stoppages and other disruptions at ports, economists and others familiar with the situation inside Myanmar say. That has worsened already bleak conditions due to the pandemic.

The UNDP said conditions could deteriorate by early 2022 to a level of poverty last seen in 2005.

The economy grew rapidly after a previous military regime initiated a partial transition to a civilian government, while keeping control of key ministries and industries and seats in parliament.

Foreign investment in garment manufacturing, tourism and other industries helped create millions of jobs, providing a lifeline of support for many families living in rural areas.

But that progress has ground to a halt as the coup added to troubles from the pandemic.

“With the effects of the political crisis, we could see these gains removed in just a few months,” Wignaraja said.

The research agency Fitch Solutions has forecast that the economy will contract 20 percent in the current fiscal year, which ends in September.

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