|Almost a quarter of Myanmar’s children do not live beyond the age of five|
The barricades have gone, Yangon‘s Buddhist pagodas and traffic is flowing again.
Troops still control the streets but the tension is ebbing away, replaced by a more relaxed atmosphere.
Protests have stopped and, for now, the generals seem to have won.
But the massive underlying social and economic problems which caused this push for democracy remain.
“At least a third of all children are malnourished in this country and 132,000 children under five die every year because of avoidable diseases,” says Andrew Kirkwood of
Save the Children.
“There is a very difficult situation here, there’s no question about that.”
Hardest hit are the young. Less than 50 per cent of children will complete five years of education.
They also suffer from a range of diseases including Aids and tuberculosis.
The malnourished are not only in the remote rural areas but also in the larger cities like Yangon.
In the slums of the former capital the smiles of the children playing in the dirt belie the hardships and daily battle for survival which goes on throughout the entire country.
Chris Kaye of the World Food Programme says abject poverty is a fact of life for millions across the country.
There is, he says, “a complete lack of access to basic social services whether its health facilities, whether its water sanitation.”
“We’re talking about rural communities in areas that are extremely remote. Roads are extremely poor, travel conditions are extremely hazardous. The life that people lead in some of these communities is just extraordinary.”
The World Food Programme is feeding nearly half a million people this year but say they could easily double their budget and still not feed everyone in need.
At the time it won independence from Britain, the country then called Burma was one of the richest in the region and nicknamed the rice bowl of Asia.
Under the generals agricultural productivity has plummeted, poverty has soared and corruption is growing.
Millions of people go hungry and health services are almost non existent.
Myanmar spends less than $3 per person per year on health and education – well below the World Health Organization recommended level of $40 per person.
There are no figures for the number of unemployed but many people exist on a wage of around $1 a day.
|Decades of poverty were an
underlying cause of recent protests
In a country which has an abundance of natural resources many are asking the question why.
Save the Children’s Andrew Kirkwood says the withdrawal of the fuel subsidies may have sparked the demonstrations but there is so much more which is fuelling seething resentment by the population.
“There’s a great deal of international attention here at the moment and this will probably continue for a little while.
“But what I’m afraid of is that a month from now that the world will stop watching and the world will forget that the underlying causes of these demonstrations and protests were social and economic.”
Many countries including the US do not give aid to Myanmar because they say it props up a tyrannical regime.
But Kirkwood says the international community is not doing nearly enough to address the humanitarian situation.
“Aid to this country is about $3 per person per year which puts it among the lowest three countries in the world. I just think that’s inexcusable.”