The national measure of multidimensional welfare for Myanmar is referred to as the MDI. This study by the World Bank comprises six domains (education, employment, health, water and sanitation, housing, and assets) and fourteen indicators (literacy, primary education, school attendance, unemployment, casual employment, child work, disability, child and youth mortality, drinking water, sanitation, dwelling, lighting, communication assets and mobility assets). Four main approaches were taken to measure welfare and poverty in Myanmar – asking people, basic needs, capabilities and minimum standards.
48.8% of the Myanmar population is disadvantaged in employment and 41.2% are disadvantaged in housing. 41.4% are disadvantaged in water and sanitation, and 31% are disadvantaged in education. These are only four domains and they are not mutually exclusive. Many Myanmarese experience multiple disadvantages. 84% of the population are disadvantaged in all six domains and at least ten of the fourteen indicators. This is most prominently observed in the Rakhine State, where the MDI is 39.2 (national MDI is estimated at 20.7).
It is pertinent to note that a higher percentage of the rural population were found to experience multiple disadvantages. Multiple the was found to be a norm in Myanmar. Recent developments on Myanmar’s political and economic direction should be understood in the context of the MDI. China is well on the path of investing in massive infrastructure projects in Myanmar. This comes amidst the competition posed by Japan’s measures to exert influence in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar’s strategic location relative to South Asia, China and Southeast Asia, as well as its specific geographical position in the East-West Economic Corridor and the Southern Economic Corridor (both corridors connecting Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to Myanmar) could pave the way for an increase in FDI and employment opportunities for citizens. Onus is on Myanmar to take advantage of the opportunity at its doorstep to boost its economy while preventing exploitation of its abundant natural resources.
In the midst of international hostility towards Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis, China has stepped up its engagement in the country. In addition to BRI projects, plans for a copper mining site in Monywa have kicked off with ground inspections. China North Industries Corporation has been operating in Myanmar since 2010. Its operations have driven a wedge between locals and authorities. Despite this, Myanmar has increased its receptivity to China’s initiatives. Punitive measures imposed by the West, could have contributed to this. The Myanmarese are insistent on holding on to their lands, disrupting Chinese projects. Or is this a disruption of Myanmar’s social fabric.
Violence by the police on Myanmarese protestors is escalating, while the government desperately strives for economic reform. A pro-China government policy does not appear to be improving the multidimensional welfare of the Myanmarese. It does not seem to be creating more jobs for them, considering the fact that unemployment is one of the main disadvantages they face. The poor do not have resources to cross borders. The not-so-poor could be compelled to move, depending on the degree of disadvantage they experience. With reference to the MDI, could there be a catalysis of human mobility within the country or even out of the country?