Frustration foments in Yangon's slums

2012-12-10 11:03
A man and his child peering from their shack in the impoverished slum quarter of Aung Mingalar on the outskirts of Yangon. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

A man and his child peering from their shack in the impoverished slum quarter of Aung Mingalar on the outskirts of Yangon. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

  • Myanmar
    This volume gets under the surface to look at the underlying issues which Myanmar faces regardless... Now R748.00
    buy now
Yangon - Myanmar's trumpeted reforms are yet to trickle down to Yangon's poor, rubbish-strewn slums where experts say residents' frustrations could turn ugly if the benefits of change are not felt soon.

Each month the bamboo shacks of Shwe Paukan are inundated when high tides overflow from the river running parallel to the slum.

The clean up after the knee-deep waters recede leaves little time for optimism over a reform process that has brought greater political and economic openness to Myanmar, but few signs that the lives of the poorest are about to improve.

"We have not felt the change that everyone is talking about," said Ni Ni Win, aged 27, a mother of two.

"I think it has happened among the upper level of the society."

It is an increasingly common concern and one US President Barack Obama touched on during his milestone 19 November trip to the former junta-ruled country, where he hailed the "remarkable" pace of change but warned reforms must not bypass the poor.

Desperately poor

Ni Ni Win, who earns around three dollars a day at a plastic recycling plant, is to a degree fortunate to live in her slum in Yangon, where an estimated two million people live in poverty.

A few kilometres away, near the city centre, 400 to 500 people live in Aung Mingalar, an illegal settlement shoehorned between a river and a storage area for teak logs, which also serves as an open toilet.

The slum is desperately poor - the earth is studded with rubbish and clothes are hung out to dry on barbed wire.

Amid the squalor residents eke out a few dollars by putrefying fish guts in barrels and selling the leftover oil to chicken farmers.

Ko Ko, aged 46, said he lives in constant fear his family will be expelled from their home.

"We are not living here because we want to but because we have no choice... we can't pay for a place to live," he said as a young girl passed by with buckets of water hooked over either end of a stick across her shoulders.

Population boom

Ko Ko provides for six people from the income from his small grocery stall.

"The biggest challenge for us here is food. Every morning people have to struggle for food," he said.

The United Nations agency for human settlements (UN-Habitat) estimates that at least 40% of Yangon's five million people are "poor or extremely poor", surviving "day to day", often in substandard housing or illegal dwellings.

"Nothing has been done in 20 years", according to Michael Slingsby, the body's urban development and poverty adviser.

With the city's population expected to double to around 10 million over the next 20-25 years, Myanmar's government will come under increasing pressure to tackle poverty or face mounting discontent among the urban poor.

They are a section of society often-neglected by foreign donors, Slingsby said, in a nation where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line - the majority in rural areas.

Ambitious goal

After more than a year of dramatic political change that has helped the country out of international isolation, President Thein Sein has promised a second wave of reform focused on the economy, with the aim of slashing the poverty rate to 16% by 2015.

It is an "ambitious" goal, says Sean Turnell, an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney, backing Myanmar's potential to achieve rapid growth and simultaneously reduce poverty.

But that will only be possible with "a focus on agriculture" he says, calling for far-sighted policy to boost a sector which provides a living for the vast majority of Myanmar's people.

The government has been widely praised for major economic initiatives, including unifying multiple exchange rates, and enacting a foreign investment law.

But experts warn that social unrest may lie ahead if the benefits of reform do not trickle down, and fast, to the country's most disadvantaged.

"This is potentially one of the major issues the reform process may have to face," said Slingsby.

Recent precedent


"Manifestations of discontent with poverty will take place," said Win Htein, a lower house MP from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, predicting frequent protests as democracy is embedded.

"But they [protests] cannot reach the stage of threatening the government."

It is a warning that comes with recent precedent.

In 2007, a revolt led by Buddhist monks was sparked by anger at a sharp hike in fuel prices. It was brutally stamped out by the junta, but was the most serious challenge to the generals since a popular uprising in 1988.

Myanmar's nominally-civilian new regime has legalised protest allowing the country's long-suffering people to voice their discontent - notably last spring against crippling power cuts.

In contrast with the dark years of the junta, the response of the new administration was measured, says Turnell, "but there is always a danger" of a return to the repressive reflexes of the past.

Savings group


The greatest challenges are likely to emerge in fast-growing cities such as Yangon, with the needs of slum communities expected to expand in parallel with their populations.

For now, residents of Shwe Paukan continue to rely on themselves to build a brighter future.

Ni Ni Win joined a savings group set up by the UN-Habitat where 14 women each put  just over a dollar, each week into a metal box which is then padlocked.

One day they hope to use their accumulated savings to start their own businesses and create a route out of the slum.

"They hope their dream becomes a reality," said Kyi Win, aged 64, leader of the group, adding they would welcome government help but "we will not live in anticipation" of it.

Read more on:    myanmar
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Food
 

The most extreme journey ever?

One man is sailing around the world in a beach cat - no cabin to sleep in and no GPS.

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

Red Bull Lionheart trail run - not for the fainthearted!
Adventure holidays for your bucket list
Top 10 water sports to try before you die
6 impressive camping tips

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Save 20% on Nivea beauty products!

Buy any two Nivea beauty products and save 20%. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a tendency to focus too intently on outer appearance and beauty which hides who you really are. You are being challenged...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.