Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
Indonesia: After months adrift at sea, Asia's most vulnerable migrants receive crucial protection and reproductive health care from UNFPA
KUALA CANGKOI, Aceh, Indonesia – “How far along are you?” a midwife asks a pregnant woman, making a hand gesture over her stomach area.
Without saying anything, the expectant mother puts up one hand.
“Five months,” confirms the aid worker, holding up her own hand in unison.
The woman nods.
“And your age? How old are you?”
The woman flashes both hands three times.
“30?” the midwife repeats, imitating the woman’s hand actions.
The woman nods.
Simple and straightforward, these questions provide some of the basic information required to assess the reproductive health needs of women in a humanitarian situation.
The expectant mother, Montas, is one of 315 Rohingya refugees stationed in a temporary shelter in the north Sumatran province of Aceh.
They are part of a larger group of nearly 2000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshi migrants who, according to data from UNHCR, ended up in Indonesia after a failed attempt to reach Malaysia or Australia in search of a better life.
Wiping away her tears, Montas explains – mostly through hand gestures – that she is alone and this is her first child.
Despite the language barrier, obtaining this data is vital to ensure that the health needs of pregnant women are not neglected.
Having spent months at sea, the young woman was rescued by local fishermen off the coast near the city of Lhoksumawe in May, after the captain abandoned the boat she was travelling on. When they spotted this and other boats off the coast, local fishermen were unable to ignore the pleas of the stranded men, women, and children, and towed them to safety.
On 20 May, the Government of Indonesia agreed to provide temporary shelter to the refugees for one year.
Meeting basic needs
In June, UNFPA Indonesia sent a team to visit four of the six camps housing the refugees in Aceh in order to conduct reproductive health, sexual assault and other gender-based violence assessments before determining what steps needed to be taken next.
The mission was also an opportunity for UNFPA to distribute clean delivery kits and dignity kits to women and girls in need.
“Dignity kits are important to hand out to women to make sure that they at least have access to basic necessities such as clean underwear, clothes, soap and sanitary pads,” explains Leny Jakaria, a Humanitarian Focal Point Officer with UNFPA Indonesia, who joined the mission to Aceh.
“During a humanitarian situation like this one, we also need to pay attention to care management. Women and children should be separated from men to ensure they are in a safe and protective environment,” she says. “At one of the camps, more than half of the people were children and we saw that there were a few policewomen working at that particular camp, which was a good sign.”
Supporting midwives on the ground
Since the migrants arrived on shore on the northeast coast of Aceh, a team of local midwives has visited the camps to help ensure pregnant women – one of the most vulnerable groups during any emergency situation – are provided with the health services they need. This includes antenatal care and post-partum care for new mothers and their infants.
“Our priority is to make sure that pregnant women and new mothers are given the right care and receive the necessary check-ups,” says Indra Supradewi, Chief of the Educational Department from the Central Board of the Indonesian Midwives Association (IBI), who was part of the UNFPA team to visit the refugee camps.
“We met nine pregnant women on this mission, ranging from the ages of 15 to 30, and they were all at different stages. Some were just a few months pregnant, while one young girl was already at eight months,” she says, adding that there was a referral system in place for the expectant mothers to deliver their baby in a puskesmas (public health centre) or hospital.
There are 15,000 midwives registered with IBI in Aceh. Ahead of Ms. Supradewi’s ’s visit, the local midwives at four of the six refugee camps had already met most of the pregnant women, not only to provide support and health services, but also to help empower them.
“Along with offering counselling services for the women, we have tried to provide them with activities to engage in, such as sewing,” explains Syafrina, a local midwife who has been visiting the temporary shelter in the city of Langsa.
“We want to open a public kitchen for the women to use so that they can cook food for themselves. We want to empower them and provide specific women-friendly spaces at these camps.”
We have launched a campaign to support the Rohingya community from Burma. Donate today to help us provide food and other essential items to those in need.
According to UN estimates, about 25,000 migrants left Myanmar and Bangladesh on rickety smugglers’ boats in early 2015. Some have been abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water. Many of them are women and young children. The government in Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, denies them freedom to travel and access to education in Myanmar and has refused to accept any back.
Since May 10, an estimated 1,662 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar landed in Aceh, Indonesia, many in critical conditions and needing immediate assistance. The migrants who have made it to shore in Indonesia told stories of weeks of horror and brutality at the hands of the traffickers, who extorted them for money, provided little food or water and then abandoned them on the open sea. More migrants are expected to arrive.
We will be supporting migrants from Myanmar living in refugee camps inside Indonesia with food and other essential items. Islamic Relief has also been working with local partners inside Burma to provide support to those who are currently lacking access to food, shelter and basic necessities.
Donate to our Rohingya Campaign today to help us support even more, living without access to food, water, shelter and health facilities in Indonesia.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is among seven non-state armed groups in Myanmar listed in the 2015 Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict as a party which recruits and uses children. The UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on grave violations against children has documented persistent recruitment and use of children by the KIA since 2007.
Child Soldiers International conducted research in Kachin state in June 2014 and found evidence of ongoing child recruitment. While much of the recruitment is formally voluntary, ongoing coercive recruitment also takes place. Soldiers and civilian administrators in charge of recruitment routinely overlook evidence that recruits are underage.
While the KIA denies the practice, confidential interviews conducted by Child Soldiers International with KIA officers reveal that since the 1960s, the KIA has recruited according to an unofficial but customary rule of a "one-recruit-per-family" quota. KIA soldiers have access to a “list” containing data on household members and their ages, maintained by Kachin Independence Organisation administrators at the township and village level as part of an ongoing data collection effort.
Research conducted by Child Soldiers International found that the most common ages of children in the KIA are between 15 and 17 years old, although there have been a few reports of children aged 13 and 14. Child Soldiers International found no evidence of children being deployed to the front lines by the KIA.
Despite stating its commitment to comply with international law and stop the recruitment and use of children in hostilities, the KIA has not implemented this in practice. This report offers a set of recommendations, which, if implemented, would contribute to ending and preventing the practice of underage recruitment within the ranks of the KIA.
Yangon, 30 June 2015 – Following the recent improvement and widespread of mobile broadband networks in Myanmar, schools, especially those in semi-urban areas, will not have to wait for years to be provided with the benefits of Internet connectivity and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The technology will enable access to 21st century education content and applications, thanks to the “Empowering Women and Girls through Mobile Technology in Myanmar” project, which is the first-of-its-kind ICT for Education project in Myanmar between UNESCO, Ericsson and the Ministry of Education.
This ICT for education project, as part of the Connect To Learn initiative in Myanmar launched by Ericsson, the UK Department of International Development (DFID) and other project partners including UNESCO, will not only serve to promote mobile technology for learning but also serve as another important milestone for the Ministry of Education in the education reform process in Myanmar. This project aims to improve learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy of approximately 21,000 Grades 8 to 11 students, half of whom are considered to be marginalized girls in the country. Up to 600 scholarships will also be provided by the project partners to girls to help them stay in school and complete their secondary education. Ericsson, as a donor, provides UNESCO with funding of about USD 1.4 million for this ICT for education project.
The coalition announced on 29 June 2015 the launch of the project in its first phase to connect 17 selected schools in Mandalay Region to mobile broadband networks so that students can experience 21st century education. These schools will be provided with ICT solutions such as laptop computers, tablet computers and other ICT peripherals delivered in tandem with a comprehensive in-service teacher professional development programme to enable teachers to best utilize this technology in the classroom to enhance teaching quality. The project also includes an English language programme and life skills programme using mobile technology to develop English language and life skills, particularly for girls, as a means of empowerment and a pathway to increased secondary school retention. In the second phase, the project will expand to cover 14 more schools in Bago Region and Mon State.
Sardar Umar Alam, Head of UNESCO Yangon, said, “According to the recently released nationwide census report, 33 percent of households in Myanmar have mobile phones and many households use mobile phones to access the Internet. This is a good opportunity to explore the use of the state-of-the-art mobile technology in improving quality of education. This project can improve ICT literacy of teachers and provide a blueprint for the integration of ICT and education in schools in Myanmar.”
Jan Wassenius, Ericsson Head of Myanmar, said, “Education is essential to end poverty. Many young people, particularly girls in developing countries continue to lack access to secondary education. Connect To Learn is a public-private partnership that involves the use of ICT solutions to promote universal access to a quality secondary education. We hope that Ericsson, together with its partners, will be able to further enhance access to education in Myanmar through the use of ICT in the classroom.”
UNESCO is the lead partner for coordination with the Ministry of Education as well as the implementing partner for the three main components in this project which focus on utilizing mobile broadband technology to provide (1) teacher professional development programme, including ICT-pedagogy integration training and support to teachers; (2) English language programme, including the development and delivery of practical English learning content using mobile technology; and (3) life skills programme, including the development and delivery of relevant life skills learning content using mobile technology.
In addition to UNESCO, a number of partners are involved in the implementation of the Connect To Learn project in Myanmar. These partners include UK Department for International Development (DFID) providing project funding under the Girls’ Education Challenge, Ericsson being a donor and overall programme and technology lead and Earth Institute at Columbia University managing the student stipend and school grants programme as well as conducting implementation research at the schools. Finja Five, an innovative start-up at Lund University in Sweden, will provide child-friendly computing solutions while EduEval Educational Consultancy will conduct monitoring and evaluation. Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ will also provide funding and project management. Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) is supporting network roll-out and will provide SIM cards for the schools.
The project also receives support from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in Myanmar.
For more information on this ICT for education project, please contact Mr. Antony Tam, Education Specialist of UNESCO Yangon, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar – Resting on one of the main earthquake belts in the world, the growing cities of Myanmar including Mandalay and Yangon are at constant risk of earthquakes. The active fault line has not exhibited significant seismic activity for the past 50 to 75 years, which might mean that the stress in the fault is accumulating and could result in a strong seismic event. The rapid urbanization is increasing the number of people and infrastructure at stake in the earthquake-prone cities.
“The risk of earthquakes has significantly increased due to the urbanization. A big earthquake hitting a densely populated city could have devastating impacts,” says Dr. Peeranan Towashiraporn, Director at Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC).
ADPC has been improving Myanmar’s resilience to natural hazards since the devastating Cyclone Nargis hit the country in 2008. A recent project conducted with support from the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs focused on improving the country’s capacity in earthquake monitoring. ADPC together with experts from the University of Bergen in Norway worked closely with the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology of Myanmar to improve the systems for seismic instrumentation, data collection, and analysis, as well as to identify the best locations for new earthquake monitoring stations.
“The series of training workshops and hands-on demonstrations has resulted in a significant change in the way Myanmar monitors earthquakes,” comments Dr. Towashiraporn.
YANGON – A new resource centre, which will help government staff learn how to collect and analyse data that can inform their efforts to fight hunger and poverty, has opened in Kyaukse Township, Mandalay Region.
The centre is equipped with computers, printers, analytical software, global positioning system (GPS) devices and other resources supplied by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). WFP is also providing training to staff from the Department of Rural Development in areas such as survey design, data collection and data analysis.
Reliable, evidence-based data and information is critical in making decisions for effective programming, for fighting poverty and hunger, reducing food insecurity and fostering rural development. WFP and the Department of Rural Development agreed last year to establish centres like the one in Kyaukse across the country, which WFP says will lead to better programming and assistance for those in need of food.
“The newly-launched resource centre is expected to become a domain for networking and information exchange among the Department of Rural Development and local organizations, pursuing the shared objective of poverty reduction and rural development,” said Daw Mya Thin Wai, WFP Programme Assistant during the opening of the centre last week. “The centre will host workshops and learning events, generating wide benefits for the local population.”
The resource centre in Kyaukse, the third of its kind, follows the opening of similar facilities in Chin State and Magway Region. WFP and the Government plan to open five additional centres in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States.
In 2015, WFP aims to provide food assistance to around one million people in Myanmar, including more than 200,000 displaced people in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States, as well as more than other 760,000 vulnerable people through relief, nutrition interventions, HIV/TB programmes, asset creation and school feeding.#
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 75 countries.
For more information please contact:
May Myat Swe, Reports & Communications Officer, WFP Myanmar
Tel. +95 01 2305971-6, Ext: 2424
Washington, 2 July— More health centres, schools, roads and drinking water systems will be repaired and constructed for rural communities in Myanmar with an additional $400 million in financing approved today by the World Bank Board of Executive Directors for the ongoing Myanmar National Community Driven Development Project (NCDDP).
The additional financing from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for low-income countries—together with financing from the Myanmar government and with co-financing from the Government of Italy—will scale up the program to improve access to basic services and essential infrastructure for an estimated 7 million people across 62 Myanmar townships.
Community Driven Development is an important element of Myanmar’s rural poverty reduction strategy. The NCDDP project supports Myanmar’s “people-centred” approach to rural development, focused on engagement with communities in poor and historically underserved rural areas.
“We are pleased to be able to expand access to services for poor people in Myanmar. These additional funds will help to transform the way rural development works. They will empower and motivate communities, by putting people in charge of how to manage community development resources,” said U Ohn Myint, Union Minister for Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development.
Kyondoe, 2 July— Ananda Myitta mobile free clinic (Kyondoe branch) provided health care services to local people in Kyondoe, Kayin State, in the third week of June.
Patron of the Ananda Myitta health and education foundation and eye specialists arrange eye care services to needy patients in all regions of the nation. While in Kyondoe, the specialists gave free treatment to 58 eye patients and donated wheel chairs to four children and one man.
They also provided health care services to 157 general patients.
In June, the mobile medical team donated 118 pairs of glasses and five wheel chairs to the patients.
Under the supervision of the venerable monk, 16 volunteer students teach 31 students of fifth grade and ninth grade at the Amae-ein (Kyondoe) free tuition.
Tun Tun Htwe (Hpa-an
Nay Pyi Taw, 2 July – The Union Election Commission, on 26 June 2015, issued the Election Observation Procedures for international observers to participate in holding free and fair elections.
The notification covers 13 chapters, and five forms as annexes. Chapter I, Title and Definition, carries the 12 explanations of the words.
Chapter II, Criteria for Election Observers, defines the criteria for the observers as being non partisan; having transparent fund; having registered to the UEC and being accredited by it and performing the electoral observation activities in by abiding to the provision in laws and rules.
Chapter III, Registration and Submission for Accreditation, says international election observers, in order to get the permission to conduct election observation, shall fill out the registration form issued by the UEC or the registration form that can be downloaded from UEC’s website, and submit it to the UEC. The forms are to be submitted starting from the announcement of election day until 15 days before the election day.
Chapter IV, Documents to be Attached with the Registration Forms, calls for submitting name, address and occupation of observer’s guarantor including two recent coloured passport size photographs and statement letter of the election observation organization’s source of fund and recommendation letter about the international election observation experience and others.
Chapter V, Scrutinizing the Submission and Granting, explains the methods of scrutinizing the submitted documents, accepting and rejecting of the documents and sending the list of diplomats from foreign embassies to the submissions.
Chapter VI, Issuing Letter of Accreditation and Identification Card, says the colour of the card for the international election observers is yellow, and the green colour is for observers from foreign embassies and consulates in Myanmar.
Chapter VII, Requirements on Identification Card, provides information to be included in the card - date and number of ID card, name of the observer, nationality and passport number, name of organization and expiry date and colour-photograph of the observer.
Chapter VIII, Letter of Accreditation’s Period of Validity, says the observers shall conduct the electoral observation activities once they receive the official letter of accreditation issued by the UEC.
Chapter IX, Geographical area of Electoral Observation, states the observers shall conduct their observation only in the designated areas proposed in their plan submitted to UEC. Chapter X, Rights, Obligations and Codes of Conduct for Election Observers, states legal protection and security the right to observe and to have access to the information of the election process, the right to observe voting, vote counting and developing the voting results, the right of observe the polling station, the right to use equipment to record the election process except in polling station, freedom of movement, and the right of inform to each election sub-commissions if the unlawful conducts are discovered.
Chapter XI, Penalties for Election Observers, explains the right of the UEC stating if the sub-commissions files a report, the UEC has the right to revoke the status and rights of the observer who violates the duties and codes of conduct.
Chapter XII, Stages of Election Allowed to be Observed, states observers can observe all stages of the 13 election processes in accord with the law.
Chapter XIII, Election Observation Report, calls for the observers to report the results of their observations which shall be written as accurately as possible based on facts and evidences to the UEC within 60 days.
The notification is attached with five forms namely Request of Accreditation for Election Observation Group; the Accreditation Letter; Identification Card for International Election Observers (Yellow); Identification Card for Foreign Diplomats in Country (Green); and Observer Pledge.
For further information please visit www.uecmyanmar. org, www.moi.gov.mm and globalnewlightofmyanmar.com.—GNLM
ARTICLE 19 launches its report Women in Myanmar today. Women have inspired political leadership, reported fearlessly on current events and played a leading role in civil society in the country. As a result, however, they have faced a multitude of legal and policy restrictions and arbitrary punishments.
Women experience these restrictions, punishments and their effects differently to men. For men, these restrictions and punishments tend to come from the government, whereas for women they are reinforced and exacerbated by society in the form of gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence. As a result, women and other gender-minorities often experience restrictions and punishments more acutely than men.
This report sets out to answer several initial questions. How does the right to freedom of expression and information apply to women in Myanmar? How are women represented in the media? What information necessary for women is not easily available? Why are women’s voices not heard at the highest levels of decision making? What gender-based violence do women experience as a result of what they say?
It comes to a number of conclusions, including:
- Women journalists generally have more junior or gender-related roles than men.
- Women journalists have no gender-based support or voice within the media sector.
- Women journalists are ‘protected’ rather than empowered.
- Gender-based stereotyping is rife across the media, particularly in broadcasting.
- The government does not prioritise the provision of access to information for women.
- Women’s access to gender-specific information is hindered by cultural barriers.
- Women’s voices are excluded from decision making.
- Women included in decision making are selectively chosen by government.
- Women’s gender and sexual identity are used to exclude them from civic space.
- Women in Myanmar experience expression-related violence and its effects differently.
- The current remedies and protective measures that exist to protect women from violence actually make it worse.
Understanding these issues has led to the following targeted recommendations. Most of them would benefit not only women but other people in Myanmar, too. In addition, some of them are already part of Myanmar’s little known National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women adopted by the government in 2013.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT
Develop new laws in consultation with civil society organisations including gender-focused ones and in accordance with international standards:
- An access to information law.
- A broadcasting law and public service media law. This legislation should include a requirement for the principles of diversity and pluralism to be considered as part of the licensing of channels. The principle of diversity should be explained in the law as meaning that all gender and other minorities should be represented in programmes and should participate in decision making bodies, both of public and private channels.
- An anti-discrimination law, which must explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of “tradition” or “culture” by state and non-state actors.
- A law to address gender-based violence, to be followed by the implementation of appropriate regulations and properly funded programmes that clearly set out that – and how - all parts of the public administration should swiftly apply them.
Make amendments to current laws:
- Publicly commit to the need to challenge gender-based discrimination and reform all customs and laws that civil society identifies as either de jure or de facto furthering such discrimination.
- Amend the Constitution, including Articles 109(b) and 141(b) which grant parliamentary seats to the military, and Article 352 which limits anti-discrimination provisions.
- Amend the Association Registration Law to ensure that women and people with lower literacy levels are able to organise and create associations.
- Amend the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, establishing a clear procedure for voluntary notifications and prohibiting the requirement for permission to assemble.
- Amend the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law to bring it into accordance with the Paris Principles; ensuring Article 7(c) explicitly defines the minimum number of women necessary in the Commission.
Read more recommendations here
By Ika Koeck
Over the past several days, increasing heavy rains have caused severe flooding in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar, destroying nearly 200 homes and causing serious damage to another hundred across four townships. During the first few days of the flooding, around 1,500 people were evacuated, and about 300 of the displaced continued to stay at camps for several days as the water receded. To date, the Asean Coordinating Centre For Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) estimates that 13,000 people were affected by the floods, with over 8,500 evacuated so far. The state of Rakhine is the worst-hit, with 11,500 people affected and five deaths reported.
“The figures are expected to increase in the coming days, as Red Cross assessment teams access remote areas of Rakhine affected by the flooding,” explains U Maung Maung Khin, head of disaster management for the Myanmar Red Cross Society.
Currently the Myanmar Red Cross is working alongside local authorities to assist affected communities. Red Cross volunteers are evacuating families to safety, distributing food and water, and first aid kits in Buthidaung township which include blankets, mosquito nets, basic kitchen utensils and other essential items. Further relief stocks will be distributed in the coming days in the township of Thandwe.
“The floods have triggered landslides in some areas. It impacts access to roads and bridges, so unfortunately it hinders our relief efforts, but we are also used to these challenges,” adds U Maung Maung Khin. “We will continue to do our best to those who are in need of help,” he says.
The Department of Meteorology and Hydrology of Myanmar has forecasted more rains in the coming days, which may prolong flooding in the affected areas.
MYANMAR. Intense rainfall over the last three days has triggered flooding in several districts of Rakhine, Tayin and Tanintharyi States, as well as Bago and Ayeyawardy Regions. The floods have affected estimated 13,000 people. Over 8,500 people have evacuated. The worst affected state is the Rakhine, with 11,500 people affected. Approximately 200 houses were damaged. Media has reported five deaths. Department of Meteorology and Hidrology of Myanmar is forecasting more rains in the next few days in the upper Sagaing and Tanintharyi Regions, Kachin, Kayin and Mon States. This condition may prolong flooding in the affected areas.
The rains are associated with the Southwest Monsoon, which mark the start of the rainy season in Myanmar. It usually starts in May/June and continues until October.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | AFP | Thursday 7/2/2015 - 10:14 GMT
Southeast Asian countries Thursday launched a fund to share the cost of hosting human trafficking victims, after a regional migrant crisis saw victims ping-ponged between countries reluctant to accept them.
In May a Thai crackdown on the lucrative smuggling industry prompted the traffickers to abandon their human cargo at sea, sparking a crisis that saw more than 3,500 Bangladeshi economic migrants and stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar land in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Malaysia's Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told reporters after a day-long meeting that all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and some international organisations will contribute to the fund, which will be managed by the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat.
"The meeting supports the establishment of a trust fund ... to support the humanitarian and relief efforts involved in dealing with challenges resulting from irregular movement of persons in Southeast Asia," the grouping said in a statement.
Representatives of the US State Department and the UN Refugee Agency also participated in the closed door meeting.
Malaysia has proposed that each ASEAN member country make an initial US$100,000 contribution towards the fund, the minister said, adding that Singapore has pledged $200,000.
As the migrant crisis unfolded in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia were initially reluctant to allow the boat people to land on their shores, but relented under heavy international pressure.
They have now taken in the majority of the victims, many of whom had spent months a drift in cramped and barely seaworthy boats.
Zahid singled out Myanmar, which previously snubbed invitations to attend regional meetings to address the migrants issue, saying the country had given assurances that it would "work with other ASEAN countries" to fight human trafficking syndicates.
The regional bloc also agreed to beef up intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies in an attempt to track down the traffickers, he said.
Richard Towle, the UN refugee agency's representative in Malaysia, hailed the measures by the Southeast Asian nations and urged coordinated regional response to combat the traffickers.
"We believe Malaysia is bearing a burden of looking after a lot of people but it shouldn't bear it on its own," he told reporters.
"We know that unless these (measures to fight traffickers) are dealt with soon, the smugglers and the traffickers will be back in business, as creative as they always are, so steps need to be taken."
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Cordaid will invest 900.000 euro in microfinance programs for farmers in Myanmar. Contracts on this investment were signed this week. This creates access for farmers to small loans to buy seeds for the coming rice planting season. The demand for foreign money in Myanmar is high, but foreign investors are reluctant. Cordaid is one of the very first impact investors stepping into the microfinance market of Myanmar, which has only recently opened up to foreign investors.
In Myanmar, Cordaid is working together with Proximity Designs, an NGO based in the USA. Both organizations want to contribute to a better food security situation in Myanmar. Food production in the rural areas in Myanmar is done in a traditional way, mostly by small farmers.
Although the potential risks of investing in Myanmar are estimated as extremely high by the rest of the impact investment community, Cordaid feels that the need for this foreign investment is even higher.
'TO BOOST THE ECONOMY IN FRAGILE REGIONS IS THE WAY FORWARD.'
“To boost the economy in fragile regions is the way forward. Economic stability makes a country less susceptible to political turmoil and instability,” says Laure Wesseimus-Chibrac, head of Cordaid Investments.
Seeing the high demand for loans and savings products at the lowest income level, combined with the introduction of new government regulations allowing foreign investments at the end of 2014, local microfinance institutions have started to gear up for growth. They also had expectations to be supported by loans from foreign investors. Due to an unexpected interest rate cap of 10% on local currency loans, as implemented by the Myanmar Central Bank in March 2015, and perceived high political, economic and currency risks, foreign investors are still reluctant to take this step.
Recognizing these risks, Cordaid has come to the conclusion that the social impact of an investment at this stage outweighs the potential financial consequences. Financial inclusion is a high priority, which was underlined by the visit of H.M. Queen Maxima to Myanmar recently. Cordaid has mitigated these consequences by providing a short-term loan of 8 months, at expiry of which a new analysis will be made to investigate options for a more long-term solution. As foreign investments are very hard to come by at this moment, the investment decision was warmly welcomed by Proximity.
Proximity Designs started up as a small NGO in 2004, entering the Myanmar rural market with only two treadle pumps, 13 staff , and a distribution reach of only 600 villages. After Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayarwady Delta in 2008, they used their distribution network to deliver over USD 16 million in aid to over 1.2 million people. As most of the poverty in Myanmar still concentrates in the rural areas, this is where Proximity Designs has its focus.
Currently, they have a reach of nearly 80% of the rural population and offer a complete range of services that address many of the most pressing needs of rural families, such as solar lighting, high-quality but low-cost irrigation systems, but also infrastructural projects, farming advisory services, economic research, and rural finance. After disbursement of the loan, Proximity will immediately lend the money to 4.500 farmers in the Delta region where rice farming is the main crop.
Cordaid creates opportunities for the world’s poorest, most vulnerable and excluded people. Cordaid works in health, emergency relief and investments, for example. We are a social investor and invest in microfinance institutions and funds that offer loans, guarantees and capital stock to small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs, farmers, developers of housing projects and health clinics and other businesses that have limited other options. We do so in regions that involve a greater risk than other investors are willing to take.
Improving financial inclusion
With a shared commitment to improving financial inclusion in Myanmar, Cordaid and Proximity seek to sustainably expand the MFI’s outreach, as well as its product diversification. Cordaid will be one of the first investors providing a direct financing facility in local currency to the microfinance sector in Myanmar.