Now is the time to prevent long-term urban poverty in Yangon: Report

Thursday 15 December 2016

Save the Children, in collaboration with Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), has released a report highlighting the realities of urban poverty across the city and calling for investment in programming to prevent long term, irreversible trends in many family’s economic and social conditions.

‘Lives on Loan’ presents the key findings of a survey of 300 poor households across three townships of Yangon – North Okkalapa, Shwe Pyi Thar, and Seikgyi Kanaungto. The survey found that as more and more people are drawn to reside in urban centres such as Yangon, the opportunities sought by many incomers and long term residents alike, such as well-paid employment, continue to prove elusive.

The report finds that most of the urban poor in Yangon work in the informal sector. The extremely low income provided through casual labour, such as petty trading and some factory work, force many to rely on high-interest loans for their family’s survival.

Low incomes and high levels of debt can result in children being removed from school in order to work. Costs of living, including the price of food, has risen steeply in recent times and higher rent prices are pushing poor populations from central to peripheral areas with limited access to basic services. The report says that an alarming 46 per cent of all households surveyed are squatters. All these factors are combining to lead to long term, negative health outcomes for families living in urban poverty across Yangon, including children.

Katy Webley, Director Programme Development, Quality and Advocacy, at Save the Children, says that the report is alarming, but also timely as it’s not too late to address many of the issues highlighted in the report.

“Yangon is now at a tipping point. Unless we do something to improve the situation and invest in programming that addresses urban poverty, the city will face long term consequences faced by many other other major cities across Asia.”

“Making those investments now will give us the best chance to prevent or address some of these issues highlighted in this report and ensure that we reduce levels of urban poverty within Yangon and maximise the city’s potential.”

Whilst the majority (76 percent) of those people in poverty in Myanmar live in rural areas, recent analysis has shown that urban poverty is higher than expected. The World Bank stated in 2014 that poverty in the Yangon Region seemed surprisingly high at 34 percent, just three percentage points behind the national figure for poverty at 37 percent.

Dr. Toe Aung, Director, Urban Planning Division, City Planning and Land Administration Department, of Yangon City Development Committee, said that the report is important for the region’s future.

“Save the Children, in collaboration with the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), conducted an urban poverty survey in 2015, helping to uncover the extent of the problem. 85 percent of the surveyed group was found to be taking out loans, largely for food and other basic needs. The result is a population living in poverty, poor health and low, literacy.”

“Now that we are learning more about the problem, we must take action. We hope that this report can propel the government and civil society actors to work together to alleviate urban poverty.”

‘Lives on Loan’ draws wider attention to the realities of urban poverty in Yangon. It acts as an introduction to the people who shared their lives and experiences with researchers, provides a glimpse of the hardships they face, shows their resilience in the face of great deprivation, and points to potential courses of action.

 Download the report here.