Photo: Frederik Frisell, Sida
Our work in Myanmar (Burma)
Swedish aid is clearly focused on democracy and human rights and on meeting urgent humanitarian needs. There is no project cooperation taking place together with the government, and no money is being channeled through the central authorities. The Swedish Government Communication “Freedom from Oppression” (2009) emphasizes support for democratization and respect for human rights and is a guiding star for Sida's work in the country.
Intricate refugee crises
The first refugees from the Karen people fled from the Burmese army across the border to Thailand back in the 1980s. Today, approximately 140 000 refugees live in a chain of camps along the border. Over 50,000 refugees have in recent years been granted asylum in third countries, particularly in USA, but the camps keep filling up with new groups of refugees. Outside the camps in northern Thailand, an estimated two million economic and political refugees live in unsafe conditions. Sida has long supported refugee camps through the organisation Diakonia.
There is also a prolonged refugee crisis along the Myanmar border in the west, which began in 1978. Hundreds of thousands of people from the Muslim ethnic group Rohingya then fled to Bangladesh, where there are still refugee camps today. Several hundred thousand refugees have since involuntarily returned to Myanmar. They are not recognized as citizens and are therefore stateless. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Ojea Quintana, has expressed his deep concern about the systematic discrimination that Rohingyas are exposed to in Myanmar.
An important part of Sweden’s policy is to support the emergence of a vibrant civil society. In authoritarian countries such as Myanmar, priority is given to civil society organisations focusing on democratization and greater pluralism. Among other things, Sweden provides support to groups working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as well as environmental activist organisations.
In May 2008, Myanmar was hit by the worst natural disaster ever documented in the country when Cyclone Nargis swept over the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon. Over 2.5 million people were affected and 140,000 are estimated to have died. Hundreds of thousands of families lost their homes and possessions. After initial resistance from the regime, the international community was allowed access to the affected areas and could initiate disaster relief work. These efforts, however, had been preceded by extensive spontaneous relief efforts organized by the Burmese civil society.
The collaboration between the government, the UN and ASEAN, which was then established to support the population of the delta, was something completely new for Myanmar. For many officials and decision makers, it was the first time they had contact with foreign organisations and international expertise, and a certain level of trust was established. The disaster had the same magnitude as the tsunami that hit Aceh in 2004, but the international response was significantly weaker. Two years after the event, 100 000 families still lack permanent housing, and access to fresh water is a persistent problem.
After Cyclone Nargis, Sweden contributed approximately 115 million SEK that was channeled through e.g. Save the Children, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders (MSF), FAO, UNDP and UNICEF. Sweden also contributed to the funding of ASEAN’s coordination and monitoring of aid efforts.
Public health and poverty reduction
Sida is a donor to two multi-donor funds in Myanmar, the Three Millennium Development Goal Fund (3MDG), working in health and the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT).
In partnership with the Government of Myanmar and other partners, the 3MDG Fund strengthens the national health system at all levels, extending access for poor and vulnerable populations to quality health services. The 3MDG Fund has a significant, timely and nationwide impact improving maternal, newborn and child health, combating HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and health system strengthening to deliver sustainable, efficient and responsive healthcare across Myanmar.
Since it was established in 2012, 3MDG has expanded critical health services to more than 4.5 million people. It has enabled almost 100,000 pregnant women to access skilled care for childbirth, and almost 150,000 children to receive the crucial Penta 3 vaccination against common childhood diseases. Around 1.5 million people have been tested for malaria. In 2015 alone, some initiatives made up a significant percentage of overall national targets, such as the distribution of syringes under the HIV Harm Reduction Programme (40%).
While progress is being made, Myanmar faces significant inequalities in the health status of its population, especially in rural and remote areas, and those areas affected by conflict. The Ministry of Health and 3MDG is committed to meeting those challenges and helping to ensure equitable access to quality health for women, children, minorities and other vulnerable communities.
The model of a common donor fund has proven to be a feasible way to work in Myanmar, despite the fact that direct involvement with the government is not possible. Discussions began in 2008 amongst a group of donors on ways to help Myanmar make faster progress towards the achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.
After extensive consultations with government, embassies, the UN and NGOs, the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) was launched in March 2009. Financing 147 projects to date LIFT’s goal is to sustainably reduce the number of people in Myanmar living in poverty and hunger, and to ensure that Myanmar's rural transformation is inclusive. So far, LIFT has reached over three and a half million people, or roughly seven per cent of Myanmar's population, and is active in just under half of the country's townships. Sweden contributes with humanitarian subsidies to the fund.