Myanmar is a country that is still late in terms of urban development, with only 38% of its population living in urban areas (World Bank, 2018). Despite this, Myanmar faces similar challenges with regards to COVID-19 as other highly urbanized countries. The high imbalance of rural and urban development, falling incomes from the agricultural sector, climate migrations and relatively high rental fees in urban areas are pushing newcomers to live in informal settlements. Those people living in informal settlements, called “kyu kyaw”, are some of the most vulnerable in the country. This working-class population lives in industrial and peripheral areas of Yangon such as Dagon Seikkan, South Dagon, Mingalar Don and Hlaing Thar Yar.
Migrants fill up to 90% of the workforce that is needed for urban development. Migrants face the impact of COVID in two ways. First, they are most at risk of contracting COVID.
- Informal settlements have a very high density of population. In those places, people live in 10′ lengths and 15′ breadth houses or very small hostels. One house can be shared by several families. Besides, access to clean water is limited. For these reasons, they are vulnerable to any communicable diseases.
- Although people in urban areas are not far from clinics, hospitals and medical services, it is a concerned question whether they can get enough medical services and knowledge or not. Migrant workers who lost or lack official documentation have no access to social security.
- Moreover, ‘mobility’ by workers in informal settlements in Yangon such as workers who came back from Thailand are hardly monitored and could spread pandemic.
Second, they endure the negative impact on their livelihoods as a result of the global economic slowdown.
- Almost all people in informal settlements are daily workers. Almost all family members have to work every day for daily family livelihood. Thus, those families are now in difficult conditions when factories are to be stopped and there are fewer and fewer job opportunities.
- As they are daily workers, they have no extra money. Thus, when activities are to be stopped, the workforce is reduced, offering fewer job opportunities. Poverty and resulting impoverished nutrition and alimentation reduce individual resistance to viruses and diseases.
The above factors are just studied in the current situation. Hopefully, government measures and the hard work of medical services will help us all to avoid a general pandemic. Whatsoever, if the conditions become worse, our global livelihood will be impacted. If so, the poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the most.
Green Lotus and ActionAid with the support of the French Development Agency are leading a project to build resilience in Yangon’s informal settlements.