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UNDP survey cites significant reduction in poverty in Burma

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A UN Development Programme (UNDP) statement released on Friday offered more details about a 6 percent poverty reduction in Burma, according to the 2009-2010 ‘Household Living Conditions survey’.

According to the statement, the survey results indicate that ‘the overall poverty and food poverty incidence in the country has been reduced’.

undp-logoHowever, the statement reports that ‘challenges remain’. The survey found that the amount spent on food as a share of household consumption had increased for Burma’s poor and that landlessness amongst the poorest ‘appears to have increased’.

The statement made no mention of the reasons behind the increase in food prices in relation to household spending, or the causes behind landlessness.

The household living conditions survey is made up of five reports, a poverty profile, a Millennium Development Goals data report, a poverty dynamics report, a technical report and a quality report of the survey.

The UNDP released the results of the survey at two national dissemination workshops held concurrently in Naypyitaw and Rangoon, which were attended by a total of nearly 130 people, including representatives from government ministries, diplomatic missions, UN agencies, and members from the academic, business and public sectors.

Naypyitaw’s minister for national planning and economic development and livestock and fisheries, Tin Naing Thein who attended the launching of the survey said, ‘I believe that the poverty profile, MDG (Millenium Development Goals) relevant information and poverty reports will be very useful for rural development and poverty alleviation’, the UNDP statement reports.

Akbar Usmani, a UNDP resident representative said, ‘We hope that the survey will contribute to well-informed, pro-poor decision making and to improving the living conditions for the people of Myanmar [Burma]’.

The 2009-2010 survey was conducted by taking a representative sample of 18,660 households using quantitative and qualitative date, the statement reported.

The first household living conditions survey conducted by the UNDP in 2004-2005 found that 32 per cent of the population in Burma lived in poverty, and that 10 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty, with not enough resources to cover basic food needs.

Tin Naing Thein told the state-backed newspaper the New Light of Myanmar on Monday that according to the UNDP survey, poverty was down by 6 per cent, ‘We learned that poverty in Burma fell from 32 per cent in the 2004-05 fiscal year to 26 per cent in the 2009-10 fiscal year’.

Some observers remain skeptical about the credibility of the UNDP survey, and in fact in the statement released by the UNDP on Friday, they warn that, ‘As with many surveys, caution is urged in the interpretation of data on poverty level and trends, in particular on the magnitude of the decline in poverty’.

Since Burma has not had a reliable census taken since the last official census in March 1983 when the population was said to be 35,442,972 people, any representative sample taken of poverty levels in the country could be highly variable due to varying estimates of the current population.

A Burma analyst at the Vahu Development Institute, Aung Thu Nyein, told Mizzima this week that, ‘The statistics in Burma are unreliable. The UNDP conducted the survey using a sampling methodology. It we really want poverty alleviation in the country, we must find out the real and genuine statistics. We should not be complacent with this figure of a 6 per cent fall in poverty. We know the real situation of our country’.

The Burmese government is gradually opening up about raising dialogue on the sensitive issue of poverty in the country, and it held its first ever ‘Forum on Poverty’ in May this year.

In the forum, economist U Myint, an adviser to Burmese President Thein Sein, presented a paper on poverty entitled ‘Reducing poverty in Myanmar (Burma): the way forward’. His approach was criticized by a former diplomat in a letter to Mizzima. In a response to that letter, U Myint made reference to the difficulties of even discussing a topic like poverty in Burma: ‘We are doing whatever we can to take advantage of the little spaces that are opening up for us’.

Aung Thu Nyein sent a response to U Myint’s critics to Mizzima on 31 May and spoke of a ‘climate of self-censorship [that] still prevails in the official circles’ and commended U Myint for speaking out. He said, ‘Poverty is a taboo word in my country…a senior UN official was literally asked to leave the country just because he mentioned our poverty in per capita terms to that of Laos and Cambodia’.

Last Updated ( Friday, 10 June 2011 19:51 )  

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