Facts about Myanmar
Myanmar is undergoing change. In the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, political culture is evolving.
The government devotes much effort to the reform and peace processes. The opposition remains unconvinced and complains that too little is happening, and too late. Three processes are unfolding in parallel: economic reform and liberalization, transition from a military regime to a democratic state, and the peace process.
The reform process and liberalization have led to a considerable increase in international investment. Economic growth continued in 2014 for the fourth consecutive year, reaching more than seven per cent.
This growth benefits a large proportion of the population, but is unevenly distributed. A considerable step forward for many is the access to far cheaper and better telecommunications, made possible by actors including Telenor.
Negotiations on a national ceasefire have been underway since 2013, and progress has been made in a number of areas. Spring 2015 was marked by combat between military forces and ethnic insurgent groups in North-Eastern Myanmar. Time is running out with regard to the opportunities for a national ceasefire agreement and political dialogue before the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in the autumn of 2015.
The humanitarian and human rights situation of the Muslim minority remains precarious, as evidenced by the boat-refugee crisis in the Indian Ocean that attracted international attention in May 2015.
Many forces that oppose reform can be expected to exploit inter-ethnic tension. The Rakhine/Rohingya issue remains highly sensitive and is considered to be an ‘election-losing issue’ for the political actors, which may explain the international criticism of the opposition’s silence regarding this topic.
The transition from strict censorship to a major degree of freedom of speech has proceeded rapidly, even though some setbacks were recorded in 2014, when journalists were sentenced to long prison terms. Myanmar is currently ranked as no. 151 (of 179) on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Norwegian development cooperation with Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the priority countries for Norwegian aid. Main priorities for development cooperation include natural resource management, energy and environment/climate, in addition to a strong emphasis on peace and reconciliation and the political and economic reform process. In 2014, total Norwegian bilateral aid to Myanmar amounted to approximately NOK 230 million.
A Memorandum of Understanding for development cooperation was signed during the official state visit in 2014. Efforts to establish Oil for Development, institutional collaboration related to sustainable hydropower development and bilateral environmental collaboration between Norway and Myanmar are well underway.
Political and economic reform
Support for the political and economic reform process is a key component of development cooperation between Norway and Myanmar, amounting to NOK 8,3 million in 2014 distributed among six organizations.
This support assists in capacity-building and confidence-building between the central authorities, the ethnic insurgent groups and the local population. Norwegian support has also helped establish the Center for Diversity and National Harmony, a key initiative in building arenas for interfaith dialogue. The operation of 30 different offices has established opportunities for contact and dialogue between the armed ethnic insurgents and the authorities/the army.
Since 2012, Norway has supported the implementation of the government’s economic reform programme through capacity-building and expert advice to the Ministry of Planning and the President’s Office.
In cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), Norwegian aid promotes better understanding of workers’ rights and facilitates social dialogue between employers and employees in line with the Trade Union Act that was adopted in 2012.
Norway also grants support to the ILO programme Entrepreneurship Development and SME Support in Myanmar, which is intended to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises to create more and better job opportunities.
In cooperation with UNIDO, Norwegian aid also helps boost Myanmar’s food exports, thus helping promote economic growth and integration into regional and international economies.
Norway grants support to the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB), which assists enterprises and authorities in upholding social responsibilities and human rights.
As part of the preparations for the parliamentary elections in 2015, Norway grants support to International IDEA and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) for capacity-building in the election commission, the media and civil society. Norway was also a major contributor to the census that was held in 2014, in cooperation with UNFPA and other donors.
Myanmar is a country with enormous natural resources and a huge potential for future energy production from hydropower and natural gas, as well as renewable energy from solar, wind and bioenergy. Exploitation of this potential and better access to energy are key elements of the government’s plans for economic development. Only one-quarter of the population has access to electricity.
Cooperation between Norway and Myanmar in the field of natural resource management and energy came fully underway in 2013, and is so far limited to capacity-building in the apparatus of government and support for revision of legislation. Capacity-building is given high priority by the authorities, and Norway plays an important role in this context. This cooperation is expected to expand considerably in the years to come.
The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) has entered into long-term collaboration with Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power on capacity-building related to hydropower. NVE will assist the authorities in their efforts associated with hydropower development, legislation, hydropower standards and hydrology, and provide capacity-building in the form of training courses (through the Norwegian International Centre for Hydropower) as well as opportunities for Master’s degree studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
This cooperation also includes a budding collaboration with the authorities and the Karen National Union (KNU) on hydropower development in regions controlled by the KNU. This is a key element of the peace process and a specific example of how technical advice in areas in which Norway has a comparative advantage can contribute constructively to the dialogue between the authorities and ethnic groups.
Norway has also assisted the Ministry of Electric Power through a collaboration with the Asian Development Bank linked to capacity-building and a revision of the Electricity Act. Revised legislation on electricity was adopted in October 2014.
For many years, Norway has granted support to the local organization Proximity Designs, which offers innovative renewable energy solutions to rural farmers. Proximity Designs is also partnered with Norfund for cooperation on microfinance. Cooperation with the local organization Green Economy Green Growth has resulted in the establishment of an ASEAN Institute for Green Economy.
Natural resource management
Oil for Development
The preparations for an Oil for Development programme are well underway. Since February, a Norwegian consultant has been based in the Ministry of Finance to assist the authorities in matters associated with management of income from the petroleum sector, with a view to establishing a natural resources fund.
Advice linked to revision of the petroleum legislation and establishment of environmental guidelines and social impact analyses in the oil/gas sector are examples of other ongoing activities.
The authorities have expressed great interest in an Oil for Development programme in Myanmar.
Norwegian support through the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project (BOBLME) helped launch a voyage with the research vessel ‘Dr Fridtjof Nansen’ in the autumn of 2013 to map and estimate fish stocks and marine biodiversity. The investigations showed that the fish stocks in the seas off Myanmar have declined considerably over a period of thirty years.
A new survey will be conducted in 2015. A long-term collaboration between Norway and Myanmar for fisheries management is being considered.
Environment and climate
Norway is considered one of the key development actors in the environmental sector. Preparations for bilateral cooperation between the Norwegian Ministry of Environment and Climate (KLD) and the Myanmar Ministry of Environment and Forests are underway, and an agreement is expected to be signed in the autumn of 2015. This cooperation will focus on capacity-building related to biodiversity, water management and hazardous waste. The main actors on the Norwegian side are the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA).
Since 2012, Norway has collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on preservation of Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s foremost natural treasures and tourist attractions. Partly as a result of this collaboration, UNESCO declared Inle Lake a Man and Biosphere Reserve in June 2015.
Norway also contributes to a wider collaboration with UNESCO for nomination of natural areas in Myanmar as World Heritage Sites.
Climate and forests are increasingly important to the Norwegian development cooperation with Myanmar. Norway has contributed to the preparations for a national programme for the UN forest initiative REDD+ and funds the first phase of the programme.
In cooperation with other donors, Norway has supported UNICEF’s efforts in the area of basic education and development of primary schools in Myanmar. This support includes political reforms, capacity-building at the local and national level and service provision in 34 especially vulnerable townships. Since 2012, more than 185.000 children have been reached through the programmes for early childhood development, informal basic education and training in life skills. Of these, approximately 5000 live in camps for internally displaced persons. Altogether 900.000 children have been supplied with necessary school equipment.
Norway has granted support to the Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria since its inception, and contributes NOK 1,7 billion for the period 2014–2016.
This global fund has provided support to Myanmar since 2012. Total support amounts to USD 451 million (47 per cent for HIV, 29 per cent for tuberculosis and 24 per cent for malaria).
- 65.000 people are undergoing active ARV treatment
- 104.000 cases of tuberculosis have been diagnosed and treated
- 2.000.000 cases of malaria have been treated
The results are updated twice annually: http://portfolio.theglobalfund.org/en/Country/Index/MMR
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Recent reforms in Myanmar have provided a considerably wider latitude for civil society. The number of international and local organizations has grown rapidly, including in rural areas.
The support provided by Norad is spent as much as possible in line with the priorities for other Norwegian aid to the country. The support increased to NOK 20 million in 2014, and a further increase is planned for 2015. This is mainly due to Save the Children’s new cooperation agreement with Norad, according to which Myanmar is one of several priority countries. Other Norwegian NGOs with partners in Myanmar include ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), the Rainforest Foundation, Norwegian Church Aid, CARE and Digni.
Main sectors include education, minority rights, forest management and preservation of biological diversity, as well as raising awareness on responsible resource management. Save the Children emphasizes children’s first years at school, children’s rights and their need for protection. ADRA is active in education, with emphasis on minority rights.
There are major humanitarian needs in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, and the UN estimates that 80–90.000 persons are internally displaced. In the period May‒July 2015, Norway has pledged NOK 20 million in humanitarian assistance to the population of this region. The support will benefit both Buddhists and Muslims, and will be earmarked for various programmes for education, protection and prevention of human trafficking, return of internally displaced persons and contribution to coverage of basic needs.
There is a significant need for support to preventive measures in this part of Myanmar to protect more people from falling victim to human trafficking and to help facilitate better interaction between the various ethnic groups.