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What are the current issues in Myanmar

Myanmar is the largest country in Southeast Asia with a land area of 676,578 square kilometers. The country's estimated population of 57.5 million is made up diverse ethnic and religious groups. It is rich in natural resources with immense possibilities, including agricultural land, forestry, natural gas, various metals and gems, and water resources.

Myanmar has an estimated population of 58 million made of 135 different ethnic groups. The country is categorised as one of the world's least-developed states, and it ranks 149 out of 187 countries in the 2012 UNDP Human Development Index ranking.

Access to adequate and nutritionally-balanced food in Myanmar remains a major challenge for the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population, especially in rural border areas. Twenty-six percent of the population are below the poverty line and close to three million people are considered food poor. The nationwide prevalence of stunting among children under-five is 35 percent, indicative of a high burden public health problem by international benchmarks.

Long-lasting localised conflicts have led to the displacement of populations in eastern and southeastern Myanmar, which already faced high levels of poverty and food insecurity. Inter-communal violence recently broke out also in parts of the country, leading to widespread damage and displacement. In addition, a large segment of the population in Northern Rakhine State continues to suffer from a stateless and impoverished condition. In Shan State, many families are confronted with the challenge of transitioning from opium production to alternative income sources in order to comply with the Government poppy eradication measures (Myanmar is the second producer of opium, after Afghanistan).

The country is prone to recurrent natural disasters as tropical cyclones (Nargis in 2008), floods and drought.

Myanmar is a country in transition, at a turning point of its history and at the center of political and economic interests in the region - and beyond. Despite the number of changes being witnessed lately, tangible progress in the areas of economic and social development and the provision of basic services to the whole population and throughout the country will require time.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Myanmar

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been present in Myanmar since 1994 and has implemented several food assistance interventions to improve nutrition, food security and livelihood access for the most vulnerable populations in remote areas throughout the country. WFP works in Rakhine, Shan, Chin and Kachin States as well as in Magway Region. WFP's goal is to contribute to more equitable development across the country and support national reconciliation efforts, by reducing poverty, food insecurity and undernutrition and increasing resilience amongst the most vulnerable communities.

WFP’s assistance targets poor and vulnerable households, children under five, pregnant and lactating women, schoolchildren and their families, as well as patients receiving treatment for HIV and tuberculosis. WFP works through five activities:

WFP provides relief assistance that help families who may find themselves temporarily in a state of food insecurity: persons internally displaced by conflict and returnees who need additional support in resettling; people affected by natural disasters; and extremely food insecure and destitute households in Northern Rakhine State, where livelihood activities are limited.

The nutrition program aims to reduce ante and post-natal undernutrition by addressing the nutritional needs of children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women. Malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from conception to 2 years of age – can lead to irreversible damage. WFP provides fortified foods for children to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition in targeted areas, and provides food and micronutrient supplements for pregnant and lactating women that maximize their caloric and micronutrient intake.

WFP’s Assets Creation activities help communities to build or repair community assets once acute food needs have been met. These activities build household and community assets that can: i) mitigate the impact of future disasters, such as land terracing projects that counter soil erosion; ii) increase access to markets such as the construction of road networks; and iii) diversify income sources. Food is the main source of assistance during asset creation, but WFP will also use cash transfers where appropriate.

Educational development is a major government policy goal, and WFP collaborates with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF on school feeding with a view to improving children’s access to and retention in primary schools. In schools assessed as vulnerable or with low education indicators, WFP will provide a daily snack of fortified biscuits for schoolchildren to encourage participation and increase learning potential. Where food insecurity or low enrolment rates justify additional support, WFP also provides a take-home ration of rice as an incentive for families to continue sending their children to school.

In addition, WFP provides food assistance for people receiving treatment for HIV/TB. Monthly food assistance is provided for patients living with HIV on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and TB patients on directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS), which help to ensure nutritional recovery and treatment success.

Featured Myanmar publications

  • Myanmar: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 514 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Myanmar? Visit the Myanmar publications archive.