Poverty and food insecurity during COVID-19: Evidence from the COVID-19 Rural and Urban Food Security Survey (RUFSS) – June and July 2020 round

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By Derek Headey, Sophie Goudet, Isabel Lambrecht, Than Zaw Oo, Elisa Maria Maffioli, Erica Field, and Russell Toth

To assess the economic and food and nutrition security impacts of COVID-19, just over 2,000 households in urban Yangon and in rural villages of the Dry Zone were surveyed in June and July 2020.

Key findings

  • COVID-19 has had strong negative impacts on income-based poverty among both rural and urban households. Losses of jobs or other income have been the main impacts.

    • Twenty percent of respondents reported their household earned no income in June.
    • USD 1.90/day poverty in the sample increased by 27 percentage points from January to June.
  • Falling into poverty was strongly associated with loss of employment and recent childbirth.

  • The poor frequently coped with income losses through loans or other credit, although between 15 and 20 percent of households also reduced their food expenditures.

  • Self-reported food insecurity experiences and inadequate dietary diversity among mothers were much more common in the urban sample, despite the rural sample being poorer.

    • In urban areas, one-quarter of respondents were worried about food quantity and quality, and one-third had inadequate diets.
  • Self-reported losses of income and jobs were strong predictors of food insecurity and inadequately diverse diets.

    • Mothers who had given birth in the past month had much less diverse diets than pregnant women.


  • In response to income losses associated with COVID-19, the Government of Myanmar introduced a series of emergency measures to provide basic assistance to vulnerable households. It is critical to assess the effectiveness of such assistance in reaching food-insecure populations and maintaining basic food security.

  • Maternal and child cash transfers (MCCT) currently cover mothers of young children in five states/regions. However, in September 2020, mothers not covered by this program are being offered only a one-off 30,000 Kyat (USD 22) payment through remote enrollment.

    • In the long run, government should look to accelerate the multi-year scale-up of the regular MCCT program.
    • In the short run, resources should be provided for continued support to mothers not covered in the regular MCCT program, for the means to impart social behavioral change through remote platforms, and for evaluating the targeting and impacts of these efforts.
  • Job creation must be at the heart of economic recovery strategies, including for returning migrants and unskilled casual laborers. However, such efforts should be closely monitored.

  • Whether loans and other credit are viable and effective coping mechanisms and economic recovery strategies for those adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis should be assessed closely. Such approaches may create indebtedness problems for some groups.

  • Income losses from childbirth are large. More family-friendly work policies are justified to protect pregnant women and women with young children from loss of employment and wages.

  • Economic recovery initiatives should emphasize enhancing women’s access to resources, including – but not only – during the first 1,000 days of life.

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