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Reflections from the field: On the road with communities in Myanmar and Laos (Part 1)

Susan Wong's picture

So I just returned from a terrific mission to Myanmar and Laos, two countries experiencing strong annual growth rates, and both facing challenges of making rapid growth inclusive and just for all its citizens.

Mission to Myanmar: Promoting the full development potential of an economy in transition

Cecile Fruman's picture
In Yangon, the urban modernization of Myanmar is well under way | Photo by Stephanie Liu

How do you help a burgeoning democracy like Myanmar with its transition to a market-based economy after 50 years of isolation, poor infrastructure and limited capacity for reform? You do it by  engaging closely with the government, the private sector and development partners, and by providing the full range of data, financing and knowledge available across all sectors of the economy.

As I conclude my first visit to Myanmar, a fragile and conflict-affected country where the World Bank Group started our development engagement just three years ago, I've witnessed first-hand how the WBG can best support such an economy in transition. As Myanmar looks forward to its first free and fair election in over two generations – an event coming up in November – the challenge will be to ensure continued reform momentum during a period of dramatic political change.
Seldom have we faced such dramatic circumstances in a country where our engagement is in such an early stage and where the development potential is so great. A country of 50 million people that went from once being the rice basket of Asia to today having the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality among ASEAN countries as well as vast untapped farmland, Myanmar provides a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity. This situation offers a chance for the WBG’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice to contribute to the transformation of an economy and society by supporting regulatory reforms, improving trade policy and trade facilitation, helping generate investment and improving the ability of the country to compete in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
I was privileged during my visit to meet with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Commerce and their senior staff, and to open the Third Session of the Trade Sector Working Group, which the WBG co-chairs with the European Union and the Ministry of Commerce. Surrounded by India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Lao PDR – countries that together have about 40 percent of the world’s population – Myanmar has markets at its doorstep that are ready to be tapped. The removal of investment and trade sanctions by the West has also opened significant new opportunities farther afield.

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Valerie Lorena's picture

Also available in: Français | العربية

A boat trip from Port Elizabeth to Kingstown, in the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is a one-hour trip that locals take several times a day. It was during one of these journeys that the boat of Kamara Jerome, a young Vincentian fisherman, ran out of gas six miles from Bequia City in what is termed locally as the "Bequia Channel." While waiting for help with strong wind gusts and the sun on his head, the idea of developing a boat that would run with wind and solar energy was born. Soon after, the idea became a prototype; a boat using green technology was on the water making 20-year-old Jerome a winner of international innovation competitions and a role model to other Caribbean youth. 
In Mexico, young engineer Daniel Gomez runs a multimillion bio-diesel company originally conceived as a research project for his high school chemistry class. Gomez and his partners - Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez, and Mauricio Pareja - founded SOLBEN (Solutions in bio-energy in Spanish) in their early twenties. 
Although Daniel and Kamara have different educational backgrounds, they do share one important skill, the ability to identify a problem, develop an innovative solution, and take it to the market. In other words, being an entrepreneur, an alternative to be economically active, that seems to work and not only for a few.

Maintaining momentum in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.

Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.

Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.

In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia.  Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.

The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.

Now is the time to strengthen disaster risk reduction in East Asia and the Pacific

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture
In PDF: Korean | Khmer

Every time I learn of another natural disaster – the people killed and injured, homes destroyed, livelihoods lost – I know we must act to reduce the tragic impact instead of waiting for the next disaster strikes.

We have that chance with this year’s World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, which seeks to finalize the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA2) that guides policymakers and international stakeholders in managing disaster risk. The conference is an opportunity to set new milestones in disaster risk reduction and fighting poverty.

The cost of natural disasters already is high – 2.5 million people and $4 trillion lost over the past 30 years with a corresponding blow to development efforts.

In Asia, rapid urbanization combined with poor planning dramatically increases the exposure of cities, particularly those along densely populated coasts and river basins. Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,350 people in the Philippines in 2013, directly contributed to a 1.2 percent rise in poverty.

Despite expectations, cities in East Asia are becoming denser

Chandan Deuskar's picture
When we think of urban expansion in the 21st century, we often think of ‘sprawl’, a term that calls to mind low-density, car-oriented suburban growth, perhaps made up of single-family homes. Past studies have suggested that historically, cities around the world are becoming less dense as they grow, which has prompted worries about the environmental impacts of excess land consumption and automobile dependency. A widely cited rule of thumb is that as the population of a city doubles, its built area triples. But our new study on urban expansion in East Asia has yielded some surprising findings that are making us rethink this assumption of declining urban densities everywhere.

Myanmar sees early progress in its public procurement reform

Zhentu Liu's picture
 Markus Kostner / World Bank

Myanmar is embarking on a triple transition: from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance; from a centrally directed economy to market oriented reforms; and from several decades of conflict to peace.

Since 2011, leaving behind decades of isolation, fragility and conflict, a reformist government has steered unprecedented political and economic reforms intended to open Myanmar to the global economy, boost growth, and reduce poverty.
As part of its economic reforms, Myanmar seeks to establish a modern public procurement regime and has taken a series of actions including the issuance of two Presidential Instructions and two directives on Public Procurement to establish the basis for an open and competitive public procurement system.

Tracking Urbanization: How big data can drive policies to make cities work for the poor

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Every minute, dozens of people in East Asia move from the countryside to the city.
The massive population shift is creating some of the world’s biggest mega-cities including Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Seoul and Manila, as well as hundreds of medium and smaller urban areas.

This transformation touches on every aspect of life and livelihoods, from access to clean water to high-speed trains that transport millions of people in and out of cities during rush hour each weekday.

Rice Price Volatility- Why It Matters For Poverty Reduction in Myanmar

Sergiy Zorya's picture

There are many kinds of rice and one of the most popular varieties in Myanmar is called Emata. This word literally means that it’s so delicious that a visitor is still sitting and eating. Emata lives up to its name- people in Myanmar love it for its long grain, fluffy and slightly sticky texture after cooking. This rice variety is also one of their main exports.

People find it troubling that the price of Emata has risen by more than 40% over the last five years. The price of rice has also been fluctuating sharper than in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. Since Myanmar’s domestic rice market is weakly integrated into global markets, domestic factors are the primary reason behind high price fluctuations.

At the Heart of the Matter: Improved Market Access to Food Supplies

Bill Gain's picture
Hi-Las workers weighing and sizing mangoes. Source -

At the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Bali on December 2013, all WTO members reached an agreement on trade facilitation and a compromise on food security issues, a contentious topic which had previously stalled talks during the 2008 Doha Development Round. The “Bali Package,” as it came to be known, was quickly heralded as an important milestone, reaffirming the legitimacy of multilateral trade negotiations while simultaneously recognizing the significant development benefits of reducing the time and costs to trade.

Seven months after the Bali Ministerial Conference, however, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has yet to be ratified as India is concerned that insufficient attention has been given to the issue of food subsidies and the stockpiling of grains. India maintains that agreements on the food security issue must be in concert with the TFA.
Despite the current impasse in implementing the Bali decisions, the food security concern at the heart of the matter sheds light on the importance of improving the agribusiness supply chains of developing countries to ensure maximum efficiencies. Consider the fact that in 2014, farmers will produce approximately 2.5 billion tons of food. Yet, 1.3 billion tons are lost or wasted each year between farm and fork, while 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger.