Socio-economic conditions of Arakan

Burma is the second poorest country in Asia after Afghanistan, Arakan is the second poorest state of Burma (43.5 % of the Arakanese are poor)

Burma is recognized as one of the world's least developed countries (LDC) since 1987 . It ranks 149 out of 187 on the UNDP Human Development Index and is Asia’s second most underdeveloped country, characterised by extreme poverty and lack of development. UNDP figures show that in 2010, 43.5% of Arakan State’s inhabitants lived below the poverty line. This was increase of more than 5% since 2005, and placed Arakan behind Chin State as the poorest state. Out the total of 14 Burmese states, Arakan is the “worst,” according to several development (see Table 1).

 

Table 1: 2010 Development Indicators of Arakan State

2010 Development Indicators

(Millennium Development Goal)

Arakan State

Burma Average

ranking/14 states

 

access to improved sanitation (MDG7)

worst

54.3%

79%

access to electricity

worst

26.4%

48.8%

unemployment rate

worst

6.7%

1.7%

economic dependency ratio

worst

1.09

0.67

poverty

2nd worst

43.5 %

25.6%

rural demographic dependency ratio

2nd worst

0.67

0.56

labour force participation rate

2nd worst

58.4%

70.5%

(Source: Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey in Myanmar: MDG-Relevant Information, UNDP 2007 and 2009-10)

Arakan has undergone massive socio-economic changes over the past fifty years. These changes increased since the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took power in 1988, which changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997.

Farmers who once engaged in subsistence farming and sold any surplus from their annual harvest to local villages, are now forced to harvest crops at least twice a year. A small amount of the rice produced does continue to be sold locally by independent farmers. However, these small entrepreneurs are subject to extortionate unofficial “taxes” enforced by military personnel in the area. Roadblocks are set up along transportation routes by soldiers who require passing traders to pay them in cash, gasoline or produce, usually in the form of rice. The navy has established a similar system of checkpoints on the rivers and many civilian-owned boats have been destroyed at these points for failing to pay the “tax”. The prevalence of military extortion means that many civilian landowners, even those possessing hundreds of acres, live in poverty.

Many multi-billion “development” projects have inflicted unprecedented suffering on civilians in Arakan State in recent years. These projects include the Sitetway-Rangoon Highway, the Sitetway-Ann-Minbu Railway, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility, the Shwe Gas Project, and numerous hydropower dams.

Amnesty International has reported that such projects create a long list of problems including, but not limited to, louq a pay and forced relocation . These projects destroy both the natural environment and damage the integrity of archaeological and cultural sites. Even though there is gas, oil and hydropower in Arakan, residents only have four hours of electricity per day, and then only in the towns ; this is Burma’s area with the least access to electricity (see Table 2.1).

Healthcare and Education

"The humanitarian needs of Burma's people for food, clean water, and basic health care are immense because the military government has for so long mismanaged the economy and put stringent conditions on aid.[...] The good news is that after Nargis, the capabilities of Burmese relief workers have grown to help fill this gap. The bad news is that gains in the cyclone affected area have not been matched in the rest of the country, where millions of Burmese are living in unnecessary poverty fueled by systematic corruption and repression."

“Burma after cyclone repression impedes civil society and aid”, Human Rights Watch

The healthcare system in Arakan State and throughout Burma is very underdeveloped. As expected, the health of people in rural areas of Arakan State is also poor. Medicine is difficult to access, many villagers die of treatable diseases, and the people suffer the highest rates of malnutrition in Burma (see Table 2). “Although healthcare is nominally free, in reality patients have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals lack many of the basic facilities and equipment.” In general, the healthcare infrastructure outside of Rangoon and Mandalay is extremely poor, but is worse in remote areas like Arakan State, where there are only 41 hospital beds for every 100,000 people, which ranks as the fourth lowest in the country and compares poorly to the national average of 67

Table 2: 2010 Health Indicators of Arakan State

Development Indicators

(Millennium Development Goal)

Arakan State

National Average

ranking/14 states

2010

2010

Underweight under 5 years old (MDG1)

Worst

52.8%

32%

Severe malnutrition under 5 years old

Worst

16.3%

9.1%

antenatal care (at least 1 visit)

Worst

67%

83.3%

Births attended by skilled personnel (MDG5)

Worst

55.2%

77.9%

Immunisation against DPT

Worst

56%

74.6%

Access to safe drinking water (MDG7)

2nd worst

49.5 %

69.4%

Food poverty incidence

2nd worst

10.0

4.8

(Source: Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey in Myanmar: MDG-Relevant Information, UNDP 2009-10)

Arakan State also suffers from Burma’s highest levels of illiteracy among children and adults.

“Most of the village tracts have at least one primary school (class 1 to 4). But remote areas’ admission is weakened by distance and lack of communication during the rainy season. But, widespread poverty keeps many children have to leave school as they are compelled to support their families. Most of the students have to give up their schools during the winter and summer seasons to provide help to their parents in their croplands.”

In the 2005-20006 academic year, the primary transition rate in Arakan State was the country's lowest. Public education is available for middle school (grades 5 to 8) and high school (grades 9 to 10) as well as “self-supported schools, where students’ families and villagers have to pay the teachers in cash and paddy.” Despite this, for 2009-2010, Arakan State had the country's lowest enrolment levels for both primary and secondary education (see Table 3).

Table 3: 2010 Education Indicators of Arakan State

Development Indicators

Rakhine State

National Average

ranking/14 states

%

%

literacy above 15 years old

worst

75.1%

90.6%

enrolment in primary school

worst

71.4%

87.7%

enrolment in secondary school

worst

32.0%

52.5%

access to secondary school

2nd worst

23.3%

33.9%

“Education levels are also worsened by the lack of teachers in rural areas and the poor quality of teaching.” Many teachers choose not to work in rural areas due to a lack of facilities and poor transportation in the area. “Teachers receive a negligible salary, and it compels them to increase their income through other means.” Clearly this reduces the quality of the teaching that they can provide. The only higher education institutes in Arakan State are: Sitetway University, Computer University (Sitetway), Government Technical Institute (Thandway), Kyaukphru Education College, and Technological University (Sitetway).

Box 2.1: Deprivation of Education in Arakan, Burma

“Education in Burma has been severely impacted by more than four decades of military rule. The military regime views potentially politically active university and high school students as one of the biggest threats to their grip on power, so all non-military education is treated as expendable. [...] The regime has a fear of student movements, given the history of student movement in the past people’s uprisings. As a result, the regime often shuts down the schools and limits the freedom of education. [...] All civilian schools and universities throughout Burma suffer from a lack of resources and qualified educators, a problem found in many developing countries; however, unique to Burma is the fact that the government actively tries to thwart universal and advanced higher education. Due to the deteriorating levels of education available at government schools, students and parents are increasingly turning to other educational options when these are available. In Arakan State, a large number of students are reportedly leaving government schools to enrol in schools run by Buddhist monasteries. Many people in this area believe that monastic education is better quality and less expensive than education at state-run schools. There were approximately 500 students enrolled in just one monastery in Sitetway [Shwe Zay Dee]. [...] Only a small percentage [3.7%] of people in Arakan are able to continue their higher education that passed high school. In order to support their families, many students have to quit schools to take jobs that don’t require a high education level, sometimes migrating to other countries where there are more employment opportunities. Other students cannot attend universities because they have fled their homes or been imprisoned for political activities.”

(Source: Fayas Ahmed)