Globalization, the Covid-19 Pandemic and Poverty Alleviation in Myanmar

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By Lokethar

From the optimist’s point of view, globalization has resulted in “progress” made by nations in terms of increase in their GDPs and per capita incomes. This has brought about increase in the quality of life and living. As for the increase in the quality of life, it has come about through increase in the satisfaction of not only basic needs but also the availability of consumer products that satisfies the “Comfort Needs” of those who’s income-rise has been both the cause and effect of the “unbridled consumerism” leading to the exponential rise in global trade. Globalization itself is not an evil, but “unbridled consumerism” which fast tracked globalization is.
From a somewhat different perspective, the exponential rise in global trade, fuelled by the rise of unbridled “consumerism” and the waste generated in it’s wake is to blame for the degradation of the global environment. The undertaking by countries of large infrastructure projects including exploitation of natural resources has also led to degradation of environment and displacement of entire communities affecting their way of life. (It was only from the last two decades or so that environmental impact assessment of large scale projects have been systematically undertaken). Furthermore the use of fossil fuels for energy needs of globalization is to blame for the deterioration of the ozone layer which is attributed by the environmentalists to the increase in global warming. Hence the resulting climate change and the wild weather patterns experienced around the globe can be attributed to globalization as well.

A crippling blow
However, the recent Covid-19 Pandemic has hit globalization a crippling blow. Every aspect of the “progress” made by globalization has drastically dropped. Trade has been curtailed as a result of reduction of demand for many consumer products, particularly manufactured ones. According to WTO, “Global trade is set to shrink as much as 18.5% in Q2”.
The abovementioned happenings have affected Myanmar as well. According to numbers available, Myanmar’s GDP growth rate had been a robust 6.8% in 2018 and is said to have dropped to around 1.8% following the Covid-19 Pandemic. Myanmar is considered to be a prospective growing economy by the ADB and is forecast to attain a growth rate of around 6% in the coming year. With abundance of natural resources, low labour cost and it’s strategic geographical location for sea trade, it could perhaps be a destination to invest for companies that would like to shift their production facilities from elsewhere or to invest in new ones. But then the investors may tarry depending on how much longer the Covid-19 virus will be around or perhaps mutate to a less lethal version.
As of now, due to closing down permanently or temporarily of manufacturing facilities around the world many workers have been unemployed. In some cases where the production is on going, to accommodate social distancing requirements, thinning down of the workforce has been resorted to. According to ILO some 1.6 million persons will lose their livelihoods because of the Corona Virus-19 Pandemic. In Myanmar, according to a news item carried in the Global New Light of Myanmar of 28 June 2020 around 140,000 workers from a total of 5,700 factories, workplaces and restaurants have lost their jobs. The return back to rural areas of the people who previously sought employment or business opportunities in the urban areas together with the return of migrant Myanmar workers abroad will add to the unemployment situation and increase dependence on social measures to mitigate it’s adverse affects on communities and societies across Myanmar.
The net result is that some sections of the population will suffer the consequences of the pandemic to a greater extent than others. People who have previously recovered from poverty, particularly in the rural areas, are likely to fall back to previous poverty levels due to the economic downturn. The rural population make up 70% of the total, and the poverty level in the rural areas are double that of the urban areas. The rural poverty level has to be addressed to mitigate some of the more severe consequences of the income imbalance between rural and urban populations.
However, undertakings to address the rural poverty requires much support from local as well as the international community which has been helping developing countries to mitigate the effects of the Corona Virus-19 Pandemic. For Myanmar to pull through, it should also rely more on itself and use it’s available resources to a greater extent.

Viable option
One viable option is to boost the economy by increasing the share of the agriculture, livestock breeding and fishery sectors which have an abundant of yet unexploited resources. It will at the same time address the poverty situation of the rural areas. Recent data does not seem to show investment in agriculture, livestock breeding and fishery, as a separate item, probably because of it’s poor showing. Local entrepreneurs it seems, shy away from investing in the agriculture, livestock breeding and fishery sector. However investment in the agriculture, livestock and fishery sector should be vigorously promoted, particularly to improve it’s contribution to the economy as well as to benefit the rural populace and decrease poverty.
It seems from experience, that economic development by itself does not lead to proportionate rise in living standards of all levels of people. Given that the Law of Nature allows for different levels of people of different economic status, there should be efforts undertaken by society to alleviate poverty of the lowest levels so as to enable them to better their lives.
Due to previous economic development in Myanmar, a reduction in poverty did happen to an extent. Now with the advent of the Covid-19 the previous gains have no doubt been wiped out. The living conditions of the poorer section of the population, particularly in the rural areas will probably worsen. Poverty alleviation measures directed at enhancing of agricultural and rural development will need to be earnestly undertaken to alleviate poverty and build Myanmar as a nation committed to the good of the people of the country as a whole.
With charity to all and malice to none.

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