Mercy Corps began working in Myanmar in 2008 to help communities recover from the devastating damage of Cyclone Nargis. Since then, we have extended our work to respond to communities’ needs and support the country in its path to economic growth, resilience, peace, and good governance. In 2017 alone, we were able to reach over 1 million people through our work.
Myanmar is located between China and India in southeast Asia. The country has a very young population of nearly 54 million people.
Despite economic growth and increased democratization, Myanmar, one of Asia’s poorest countries, continues to face political, security and development challenges. Conflicts have plagued the country since independence in 1948, and are still ongoing, despite economic reform. Myanmar also remains one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural hazards and climate change impacts.
Though Myanmar has experienced 7.5 percent economic growth between 2012 and 2016, the population at large has not benefited much due to deep-rooted inequalities. The rapid development in the past years has attracted young people to the cities, although their lack of transferable skills makes it challenging for them to find work. The potential of young people remains largely untapped.
Agriculture remains the largest contributor to GDP, and more than 65 percent of the population is finding employment in the sector. However, agriculture production remains low, major inefficiencies exist in agricultural market systems, and the sector overall remains vulnerable to climate change impacts, particularly in the coastal areas. Though Myanmar’s natural resources (hydropower, petroleum, fisheries, forestry and mining) are vast, they remain largely unexploited, and at times a source of conflict. An overwhelming majority of people in Myanmar are living without electricity.
Despite political reform, government systems and capacity remains low. Most community members have no or little chance to participate in democratic processes — this is especially true for women and youth. At the same time, the government’s formal peace talks are not making much progress and conflict between the Army and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) is continuing, resulting in more internal displacements.
While social media represents a new and extremely popular platform to engage the public, freedom of expression has decreased over the past few years. Many worry about increased polarization and influence of extremist Buddhist nationalist groups as well.
The troubling events in 2017 in the poorest state of the country, Rakhine, have led to more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing the country to neighboring Bangladesh. Prospects for returns are low while at the same time the remaining Rohingyas and other ethnic Muslim minorities continue to suffer from discriminatory laws and regulations.
The people of Myanmar are committed to working toward a stronger tomorrow. By providing assistance after natural disasters and helping communities and leaders bring about sustained peace, stability and economic growth that include all people, we are bringing a brighter, more stable future for everyone in Myanmar.
The Myanmar field team is made up of approximately 500 staff members and is led by the Country Director Leo Roozendaal. Our team operates from the capital of Yangon. In addition, we have 11 sub-offices in the country.
Our vision is that communities in the country are able to determine their future through responsive governance, inclusive and equitable access to economic opportunity, climate change resilience, and equal rights leading to peace and prosperity.
We are helping farmers increase their productivity and incomes and improving the way agricultural markets work. We’re helping communities adapt to climate change while increasing access to life-enhancing household energy products. And, we’re improving the ability of local governments and civil society groups to resolve conflicts and the capacity of the public in decision-making to get access to effective and responsive services.
Since 2008, our work has reached millions of people, including over 1 million people in 2017 alone. Here are a few recent results of our work in Myanmar:
- In 2017, we increased incomes by close to 15% for more than 1,900 farmers and 600 entrepreneurs.
- In 2017, more than 5,000 households adopted fuel-efficient cookstoves that reduce firewood consumption by 50% and harmful emissions by 80%.
- In 2017, we trained 80 representatives from the government and ethnic armed organizations on accountability and community engagement.
- In 2017, Mercy Corps trained 259 leaders on dispute resolution. As a result, 73% of the disputes subsequently managed by these leaders were successfully resolved.
How to help
Myanmar: Small animals bring big dreams
Cyclone Nargis, which devastated large swaths of Myanmar (known also as Burma) in 2008, took everything from residents like 59-year-old Daw Hla Kyi — including her livestock.
Myanmar: Responding to Cyclone Giri
Mercy Corps has dispatched an assessment team to Myanmar's western coast in the wake of a cyclone that has left 71,000 people homeless, according to UN estimates.
Myanmar: Regrowing the Garden
Life here in Bo Kone, Myanmar, a village of about a thousand people, has never been easy. Located on an isolated island in the Irrawaddy Delta, it's about an hour's boat ride to the nearest town.
Myanmar: Helping Myanmar, one year after the storm
Myanmar: Burmese farmers caught in poverty trap
Farming communities in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta have always followed a cycle of debt. Each year, wealthy land owners would lend farmers money, tools and cattle needed to till the soil. After the harvest, the debt is repayed and the cycle continues.
Myanmar: Field interview: Michael Gabriel
Mercy Corps' work in Myanmar in the months following the devastating cyclone that struck in the country in May 2008 has begun moving from disaster relief to longer-term recovery work.
Myanmar: Taking Charge of the Recovery
Kan Bet, Myanmar - In my four years at Mercy Corps, I have often heard colleagues talk about "community mobilization" as something central to our approach in the field, but to be completely honest, I never really understood it.
Myanmar: Kitchen Gardens in Bo Kone
Bo Kone, Myanmar — Life here in Bo Kone, a village of about 1,000 people, has never been easy. Located on an isolated island in the Irrawaddy Delta, it's about an hour's boat ride to the nearest town.
Myanmar: Work on the Playground
Be Toot, Myanmar — To be honest, it doesn't look like much: a group of 20 or so people moving clumps of mud from one spot to another in a field surrounded by a few buildings. But this is an important project, insists Mercy Corps program manager Mra Sabai Nyun.
Myanmar: A Welcome Harvest
Bo Kone, Myanmar - It would be hard to overstate the importance of rice to the people of Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta. Rice is the staple food around which all meals are built. It is the cash crop that fuels the local economy.