Myanmar Government’s department of the population has released during the last week Inter census Survey 2019 preliminary results that reflect the progress that the country has made in terms of major demographic, socio-economic and development indicators. Covering 132 indicators, Inter-census survey (ICS) identifies the progress made between 2014 and 2019. With over 0.5 million samples across the country, this survey is a prelude to the forthcoming decadal population census of the country. It is also seen as a baseline for Myanmar Sustainable Development (MSDP) indicators which reflect the human development and socio-economic changes that the country is undergoing over the past few years. In a way, it also reflects the outcomes of the policies pursued by the government over the past few years, though some of them reflect long term trend.
While the results reflect the situation about the conventional households which were surveyed, broad patterns reflect the situation of change that the country has witnessed over the past four years. There are some interesting trends that one can observe from these findings. There is an increase in life expectancy of the population from 64.3 years in 2014 to 69.4 in 2019 which would mean a significant improvement in overall well being of the population. This is one sensitive indicator that reflects the health of the society.
At the same time, there are rather remarkable achievements in terms of infant mortality (61.8 to 30.9) and under-five mortality (71.8 to 37.7) in five years. These dramatic declines of significant order beg deeper analysis and it would be interesting to study the underlying factors that contributed to this change and also the hot spots that need attention. It would be an interesting area of engagement for child health experts and demographers to explore and design schemes to further reduce these scores.
Some of the demographic changes also reflect the changing economic and social developments. For example, the sex ratio of having 88 males for every 100 females appears to be a reflection of out-migration of male members in search of work to cities and outside the country. Implications of such a situation on the women, on the rural economy (labour shortage, remittance incomes), on cities that attract workers (particularly Yangon) and also on economy as a whole requires deeper analysis.
At the same time, some indicators reflect more refined and accurate data. This is about disability. There have been studies in the past on the low and underestimation of levels of disability in Myanmar’s 2014 census operations.
This has been due to non- enumeration of all forms of disability that is prevalent across the population. The 2019 ICS appears to have rectified this anomaly. The disability prevalence rate is estimated to be about 12 per cent, with all forms of disability accounted for. Such disaggregated data in this area is important to design programs of interventions.
ICS 2019 also provides evidence on the situation concerning several social and development indicators. Concerning social pensions, Myanmar has very modest achievements in supporting the marginal groups with pensions. While formal sector worker’s pension, military and associated family pensions form a major part of the pension coverage, a very small proportion of the population are receiving any social security assistance, disabled and aged person assistance schemes. With over ninety per cent of the workforce in the informal sector, the need for universal social pensions (for those out of work and aged) is acknowledged to absorb the family shocks and vulnerabilities. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed such vulnerabilities and the government has to resort to emergency cash assistance to vulnerable families and cash for work programs for the unemployed workers. While Myanmar has an elaborately developed social protection policy document and plan, there seem to be little progress over the past four years in the coverage of various schemes as the data reflects. Universal social protection is proven to be a critical ingredient for inclusive growth and development.
Basic conditions – WASH, energy and housing
Data on various other social parameters appear to show that Myanmar has progressed well over the past four years. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities have improved significantly. About 82 per cent of population access safe drinking water in the country, which is a ten percentage point increase from 2014 data. A similar increase can be seen in the access to toilet facilities (flush/pour flush) with 85 % of households reporting having better toilets. Access to electricity has improved significantly in terms of grid supply as well as other alternative sources of energy. In rural areas, grid supply has increased from 14.9 per cent to 38.4 per cent during the past four years; while in urban areas about 90% of households are connected with the power grid. Overall access to power supply has increased from 38% to 53% across the country. Similarly, transport services have also improved in rural areas. These developments reflect as outcomes of the past four year’s public investments in the rural areas by the government. Be that as it may, the modest improvements in the housing conditions of the households is an area of concern. This could be because housing is mostly private investment activity and many households have to build financial savings to improve housing conditions. It is found that in rural areas 74 per cent of households still live in wooden and bamboo housing structures. About 9 per cent live in semi-pucca and brick house. This reflects that schemes and programs (particularly financial assistance in the form of loans and grants) may be devised by the government and private sectors to create affordable
and safe housing for large sections of the population of the country. While this broad countrywide analysis reflects significant positive development, disaggregated analysis to identify difficult to reach areas and addressing them through systematic planning would become an agenda of the government as well as non-government agencies and donors.
Another remarkable achievement over the past four years has been accessing mobile technology across the country, with a coverage of over 86 per cent population having mobile phones. Internet access through mobile phone has reached 56 per cent. The increase in access to these forms of communication is seen both in rural and urban areas. Myanmar needs to harness this opportunity and move towards e-government services which citizens can access through these ICTs. Reaching the last mile connectivity is to be ensured to address issues of digital divide which persists in the rural areas. There has been significant private sector investment in this area in the form of FDI and Myanmar is expected to benefit from this by having value-added services to the citizens through mobile technology.
As pointed out by the speakers at the launch event, ICS 2019 survey findings are important as they form the baseline for designing programs to address improvements in socio-economic conditions of the population across the country. The data presented would be useful for the COVID-19 economic recovery plans as well. Significantly, the department of population has been able to create easy access to the tables on its website and detailed tables and thematic reports which are expected to be released in the coming months would be helpful to understand the situation at a more disaggregated level.