Bordering India to the west and China to the north and south, Myanmar is one of the poorest member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). A decades-long military regime has left in the country lagging in many areas of social development, with abysmal spending in crucial areas such as health and education. Some estimates put health care expenditure at 0.4 % of the national budget and education at 0.5 %.
The country currently ranks 148th on the United Nations Development Human Development Index, joining the dishonorable league of the least developed countries in the world. Therefore, a country which was once dubbed “the Golden Land” has become the land of dilapidated infrastructures, with too many poor people and too few opportunities.
It used to be said that the country is second only to North Korea, in being the most isolated from the outside world. Until very recently, the general population had little meaningful contact outside of their own country, a situation made worse by tight control of the media.
However, with the recent elections in November 2010 and the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Su Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, there are now hopeful signs that the country is now ready to change for the better. Actors both outside and inside the country are optimistic that life is going to change for the better for the people.
Problems and Challenges
Thailand-Myanmar (Thai-Burma) Border
Due to the ongoing armed conflicts between the Myanmar government and the ethnic minorities, a large number of Myanmar people flee their homeland every year and migrate to the border in the hope of a better life. Currently, there are 10 refugee camps accommodating over 160,000 refugees from Myanmar.
The refugee camps are located in remote mountain areas or inside the jungles. People there could hardly connect to the external world, given the limited electricity and internet access. Refugees are not allowed to go out of the camp since they are not Thai citizens and other people are not allowed to enter the refugee camp without the permission from the camp leader. To a certain extent, the camps are like confined cages.
The future of the refugees is rather gloomy. The Thai government is planning to dismiss all the refugee camps in the near future so the people living there are left with three options: return to Myanmar, stay in Thailand, or resettle in a third country. However, voluntary repatriation is actually against humanity because persecution is still evident in Myanmar; integrating into the Thai society is impractical as well, due to the reluctance of the Thai government with the concerns of security and economy. Nonetheless, according to UNHCR, no more than 10% of the refugee population will be resettled.
The whole education system of the country is deteriorating since many poor people who live in rural area do not have a chance to attend school. Basically, education institutions are run by the government and education is free till university level. However, sometimes, parents have to pay some form of bribe or donation to the school. In fact, the government used only about 1.2% of annual budget on education. Moreover, in order to get high marks in the exam, private tuitions become a must for every student in urban area. In order to increase the number of graduates, the government lowered the standard of Matriculation Exam which creates the problem of degree inflation. Consequently, although a person may be a graduate, he or she does not learn anything which in turn reduces their chance to get a good job.
Health Care System
There are both private hospitals and public hospitals in Myanmar with the former much more expensive than the latter. Being a developing country, it is obvious that not every village has hospital and sometimes, people who live in remote places need to travel for a long time to reach public hospital in a town.
Generally, hospitals in small towns do not have enough human resources as well as equipment and facilities. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are the major threat to the community. Preventative healthcare is weak in Myanmar and raising awareness of the poor is something critical at the moment.
There is much difference between the life of people who live in urban and rural area of Myanmar. Transportation is one of the problems and most of the rural areas of Myanmar do not even have electricity, needless to say computer, Internet or any other thing.
Upward mobility for these people is somewhat impossible and it is usual for a person born as a farmer ended up his life as a farmer and it is the result of social conditions rather than a person’s capability. For example, when these people are very poor to earn for their living, their children have to work since they are at the age of 7 or 8 and they cannot go to school.
Moreover, in some parts of Myanmar, there is a conflict between Burmese army and armed forces of ethnic minorities and many civilians are forced to leave their homes or move from one place to another.