Shan State is the biggest of Myanmar’s administrative units. For convenience, this territory is divided into three areas (Shan East, Shan North and Shan South).
Building a Democratic and Peaceful Shan State
Despite a high turnout for the 2015 general election, political participation and involvement with public affairs is low, perhaps due to the need to focus on day-to-day survival. This focus on immediate needs is also reflected in the higher level of participation in local level cooperatives and communal activities.
There is a perception that men and women are treated equally, but objective indicators such as the number of women in leadership roles suggest otherwise. Entrenched gender norms contribute to the lack of representation and to the underreporting of discrimination, as well as underreporting and lack of adequate follow-up on gender-based and domestic violence. There are however active women’s organisations and wide-spread awareness of the need for more gender equality training
Humanitarian issues in Shan State
Shan State is not at present facing an acute humanitarian crises, but there are a number of chronic issues, including lack of preparedness for natural disasters, the impact of fighting and issues relating to drug use and the drug trade.
Ongoing fighting in Shan North is a major cause of lack of security and instability. On the other hand, responses from Shan South and East suggest that ceasefires between government and EAOs have a positive effect. However, even in ceasefire areas, remnants of conflict, particularly landmines, have an ongoing impact on the safety of the population. There is also an urgent need to address the psychological impact of the conflict and for trauma healing in all sections of the population.
Long and short-term conflict related displacement continues to be an issue in both Shan North and South. In all parts of the State, there are also populations who have been trapped in their villages by the fighting and suffered deprivation as a result. Formerly displaced persons who have returned to their villages may also need assistance while rebuilding their livelihoods.
Drug use has reached epidemic proportions across Shan State. The causes of this are complex, but include the drug trade, the lack of good job opportunities, insecurity (both a cause in itself and due to its psychological impact), displacement, injury and involuntary exposure to drugs. In turn drug use has an impact on productivity, health and security. Drug use cannot, in this context, be separated from the drug trade, which itself is intricately linked to conflict and security (as both cause and consequence).
Respondents consistently identified drug addiction as the biggest social problem currently facing Shan State. Government attempts to address the drug trade have not had notable successes. There are rehabilitation centres, but these cannot meet the needs of the population.
Development in Shan State
There are three closely linked (and mutually reinforcing) challenges for economic development in Shan State: low skill levels and lack of skilled workers; lack of economic opportunities; and extensive economic migration (primarily to China and Thailand). The lack of economic opportunities in Shan State drives migration abroad, while the lack of skilled workers impacts the State’s economic development (and encourages employers to look elsewhere to fill skilled positions). Simultaneously, the lack of skilled positions and the fact that better educated employees are not noticeably better off means that there are few incentives to continue in education or invest in developing skills. Land grabbing, both by private mining companies and for governmental development projects, also poses a threat to livelihoods, while poor infrastructure (particularly a lack of rural to urban roads and low levels of access to electricity) impact all economic sectors.
Agriculture is the largest economic sector in Shan State, even in urban areas, followed by mining and (in Shan South) by tourism. However, access restrictions and lack of infrastructure have inhibited the development of tourism outside a few well-known spots, while the local population is not generally involved in mining, even as labourers. There are also complaints about lack of consultation in granting mining concessions as well as the environmental impact of mining.
In the agricultural sector, poor farming techniques and choice of crops and varieties result in poorer outputs and contribute to the overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and environmental degradation. These factors also contribute to poor quality nutrition, despite no reported shortage of food.
The cost of seeds and other inputs, and reliance on imports from China and Thailand, insecure land tenure, lack of knowledge and lack of infrastructure are barriers to improving farming techniques. While local markets are generally easy to access, farmers report little access to more distant internal or international markets. An additional problem is that opium poppies are a low effort crop and provide a guaranteed return. In order to be attractive, alternative crops will need to offer quick and sustainable returns (which to date has not been the case).
Remittances from those working abroad are a major source of income in some areas and help families survive. However, this irregular migration reduces the skilled workforce in the State and puts the migrants at risk of trafficking or ending up in illegal, unsafe or under-protected work.
Most respondents had access to loans, but these were generally small loans from individuals; the collateral required by banks making their loans inaccessible. Government loans are available, but are criticised as too small to facilitate investment. Repaying previous loans and healthcare costs are common reasons for taking out loans, highlighting a risk that loans may create a cycle of debt rather than enabling investment.
In the health sector, the major challenges are the lack of trained personnel (particularly specialists) and the cost of medication. Most women give birth at home, creating a particular need for community level midwives to ensure adequate peri-natal care.
In towns water mainly comes from wells, while in rural areas rainwater is collected in traditional ponds.
In both cases poor management of the water resources and contamination are problems. In towns, most families have access to latrines, but access to latrines decreases in rural areas, while some individuals continue to resist using latrines even if they are available.
Despite government efforts in this sector, there are problems with access to and quality of education, including due to a shortage of qualified teachers. Teaching is delivered in Burmese, which many students do not speak, contributing to poor educational outcomes and high levels of school drop-outs.
Technical training is more highly prized than formal education and there is an appetite for more vocational training. However, except for training on agriculture, vocational trainings are not currently effective in improving the situation of participants. Longer, more in-depth trainings corresponding to the actual needs of the community would be better than one-off trainings. Links to other programmes to ensure that participants have the resources needed to put new skills into practice would also be beneficial.
Development and humanitarian actors – access, implementation, safety and stakeholders
The current administration has said that International Development and Humanitarian Actors (IDHAAs) that genuinely wish to provide humanitarian and development assistance in ethnic areas will be granted access. These actors are nonetheless likely to face practical and bureaucratic problems in carrying out projects in Shan State. Making the right connections within the Union and State governments and with influential actors in target communities will be important in ensuring access. IDHAAs will also need to be transparent in their methods and ensure that relevant actors are consulted and informed.
If IDHAAs channel their assistance through local NGOs, these NGOs should be responsible for identifying entry points and getting necessary permissions. However, there are few local NGOs that have the capacity or experience to implement donor-funded projects. It may therefore be necessary to work through more experienced Yangon-based NGOs or adopt the model of tripartite partnerships (IDHAAs, relevant government agencies and NGOs) that has been used in Rakhine State.