Riding the Wave of Reform

Fast-tracking Myanmar’s future with good-quality aid

Women farmers are planting rice during the monsoon season in Myanmar's Dryzone, Photo by: Hein Latt Aung/ Oxfam
Paper author: 
Jasmine Burnley and Javier Pereira
Paper publication date: 
Monday, January 20, 2014

In 2011, following decades of isolation, Myanmar embarked on an unprecedented opening up and reform process. These seismic shifts have raised the hopes of its people for democratic rights and have created significant external expectations. As a result, Myanmar has been tentatively promoted as the next Asian economic miracle.

But against the backdrop of this optimism, the realities of poverty, inequality, and conflict paint a strikingly different picture: up to one-third of Myanmar’s people continue to live in poverty; the country’s under-five and infant mortality rates are the highest among ASEAN member countries,2 and only around half of the children enrolled in primary school actually complete it.3 Pervasive poverty and inequality are compounded by Myanmar’s susceptibility to disasters from natural hazards and ongoing conflict, which afflicts people in many states and regions. While peace agreements continue to be negotiated, longer-term development plans to rehabilitate those affected by conflict, crisis, and violence remain a distant goal. These challenges threaten to leave a vast swathe of the population behind in the potentially meteoric rise in Myanmar’s fortunes.

Myanmar’s reforms have been welcomed by the international community and have been accompanied by rising levels of aid. These funds, if properly handled and spent, offer an opportunity to harness Myanmar’s economic potential and make it work for poor people by reducing inequality, providing essential services, building resilience, and promoting sustainable investment. This paper explores what good-quality aid should look like for Myanmar, what it could deliver for those living in poverty, and what decision makers can learn from the experiences of other countries to ensure that aid is a catalyst for democratic reform, equitable growth, and peace.