|Axel talks about his trip to Myanmar in a video below.|
You can feel the energy in Myanmar today—from the streets of Yangon, in the offices of government ministries and in rural villages. Dramatic political and economic changes are sweeping the country. There is a sense of hope, and expectations are growing that people's lives will soon improve.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see these changes for myself in Myanmar, boarding a plane on my first day on the job as the Bank’s new Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. It was an auspicious beginning, with the Bank just starting to engage with a full country program.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement, but as I met with President Thein Sein and other ministers, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, members of civil society and the private sector, I was also reminded of the tremendous challenges that lie ahead.
In my previous role as Vice President for Concessional Finance and Global Partnerships, I was responsible for helping the world’s poorest countries. Like other fragile states affected by conflict, it will be important for the government of Myanmar to deliver results on the ground quickly, so people feel the benefits in their daily lives.
While people in Myanmar have many basic needs from health to education, gaining access to electricity will transform their lives. In neighboring countries where the Bank has helped expand access, we found villagers starting new businesses. Factories began operating, creating more jobs. There are untold benefits—enabling children to study at night, and clinics to refrigerate medicine to keep people healthy.
Through our meetings with the government, it became increasingly clear that this is a very high priority—currently only one in four people have access to electricity in Myanmar. We discussed plans to expand power generation, by installing new gas turbines at aging facilities. It would mean turning on the lights for 5 million more people - and brownouts would be reduced.
It's an important step, and we are preparing to do more - helping villagers build schools, clinics and roads, delivering micro-finance, improving health, education, telecommunications and agriculture.
The visit reinforced my determination that the World Bank Group can help. The mission was conducted jointly with IFC—our private sector arm—and MIGA—which provides risk guarantees to investors—to underscore our commitment as a Group to bring our strengths together in Myanmar.
After decades of isolation, the people of Myanmar are now connected to the outside world through a more open press, and the voices of civil society are speaking out with hope about the future of their country. To keep that hope alive, the Bank Group and the global community must help Myanmar deliver benefits for its people.
Myanmar needs continued bold reforms and bold ideas to build a brighter future. I lool forward to hearing your thoughts on innovative options the country could consider.