Poverty, displacement and local governance in South East Burma / Myanmar

from The Border Consortium
Published on 01 Nov 2013

Bangkok, Thailand - The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO that works with the displaced and conflict-affected people of Myanmar, today released findings from its annual survey which describe chronic poverty, protracted displacement and weak governance as the starting point for conflict transformation. Eleven civil society organisations in South East Myanmar collaborated with TBC to conduct the survey in 209 villages spread across 6 states and regions. Almost half of the villages surveyed are located in areas administered by ethnic armed groups.

As Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups meet to discuss a nation-wide ceasefire proposal, the prospect of political dialogue to address the causes of protracted conflict is reaching a critical juncture. This is an historic opportunity to promote an inclusive and transparent peace process which recognises fundamental concerns relating to identity, security and justice, according to the humanitarian agency which has assisted refugees for the past three decades.

The survey reflects the fragility of the ceasefire agreements, and the possibility of grievances deepening due to unregulated investments in contested areas. “Ceasefire agreements have facilitated greater freedom of movement for farmers to access fields and markets, but an influx of extractive industries has led to land grabbing,” commented Sally Thompson, TBC’s Executive Director.
TBC’s report also raises concern that traditional development approaches such as building government capacities to expand social services could exacerbate tensions and be perceived as a means of assimilation and control. “Recognising the existing capacities of the respective ethnic health and education departments will be key to developing more complementary and integrated institutions”, noted Ms Thompson.

The challenge of building confidence in the peace process at the village level is reflected by findings which suggest a widespread lack of trust in local government authorities. For humanitarian agencies, TBC proposes a conflictsensitive approach which shifts away from responding to basic needs and focuses more on protection concerns.

Accompanying the report is a set of video documentaries which compile interviews conducted with local villagers in South East Myanmar about basic living conditions, protection concerns and the impact of ceasefire agreements. The videos can be viewed on TBC’s website at theborderconsortium.org and on YouTube. The footage will be shown and distributed in Thailand’s refugee camps to enhance access to information in local languages about conditions in areas of potential return. “Informed consent is fundamental to the principle of voluntary return, and the participation of displaced and conflict-affected communities is key to broadening the peace process. These video interviews promote both of these objectives and reconnect communities divided by conflict”, remarked Ms Thompson.
The report, “Poverty, Displacement and Local Governance in South East Burma/Myanmar”, and an executive summary in Burmese are available at theborderconsortium.org.

For more information or interview requests:
Bangkok (English): Mike Bruce, email: mike@theborderconsortium.org, mobile +66 (0)81 821 9770 Yangon (English & Burmese): Nilar Myaing, email: Nilar@theborderconsortium.org, +95(0)9250156110