Category Archives: Social Matters

A cause for hope for the Rohingya in Myanmar

Rohingya villagers watch as international media visit Maung Hna Ma village, Buthidaung township, northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, July, 2017. (Reuters)

Something peculiar and unexpected happened in Myanmar in mid-July: A group of Rakhine Buddhist students visited a camp for Rohingya refugees.


This kind of thing is new. While the “clearing operations” against the Rohingya over the past two years have been orchestrated by the federal military forces of Myanmar, directed from Naypyidaw, the Rakhines had long been a primary engine of previous violent outbursts against their Rohingya neighbors in Rakhine/Arakan, such as in the 2012-13 flareups of ethnic conflict. Indeed, crackdowns on the Rohingya by federal authorities have frequently been invited and welcomed by Rakhines throughout the turbulent history of post-independence Myanmar.


What is unclear at the moment is whether the federal government in Naypyidaw is aware of these developments, or indeed whether they might even be supportive of them. What is known so far is that an apparent, concerted effort to build bridges between the communities is actively supported by younger Rakhines, particularly students. As such, it is plausible that they are working entirely outside the reach of the Myanmar federal authorities, and indeed, outside of the knowledge of local Rakhine authorities who had been so hostile to Rohingyas in the past.


But it is also the case that both Rakhine and federal authorities have been running a pretty tight ship on anti-Rohingya propaganda up to now, so the fact that this is happening at present seems odd. Given that Rohingyas are so routinely demonized as “Muslim terrorists,” and sympathy toward the “terrorists” has been suppressed in the past, the fact that this new movement from among the Rakhine youth in the state has made it through to an international audience may point to some shifts in the background as to how authorities are approaching the issue of the Rohingya. Especially since, one has to imagine, the students had to get past security at the camps.


Might this have been allowed to happen in order that the authorities in Myanmar could be able to point to “civil society efforts” as positive developments as it continues to face unrelenting criticism on the international stage, and perhaps even censure at the International Court of Justice? Might this even have been encouraged or instigated by some state or federal authorities as a PR exercise for the country?


One needs to watch these efforts closely, and actively support any real dialogue between the people of Rakhine/Arakan state. If these students are indeed leading an independent effort to change things for the better in their country, the global community should be very vocal and robust in defending them against any censure from the authorities for speaking out.

Indeed, even if this is some cynical ploy where the authorities are working in the background either to allow or actively encourage these initiatives for PR and propaganda purposes, the international community should still support the debate moving forward toward the acceptance of the Rohingya in the land of their birth, and use the opportunity to push for them receiving full rights as citizens which they are entitled to under international law.


In all cases, this is a positive development. Things will not now suddenly, or inevitably get better. The entire global community must continue to fight relentlessly for the Rohingya to be accepted as equal citizens in their own country. Nor can the global community allow the perpetrators of the genocide be left off the hook, now that the debate seems to be changing toward a more positive direction. Whatever the reason for these developments, the international community must continue to support them, but it must also make sure that it does not lose focus of all the other things that need to be done.

By: DR. AZEEM IBRAHIM
Credit: www.arabnews.com

Sex education in schools sparks debate over morality

A school textbook exploring the fictional lives of adolescents and sexually active couples has caused a real-world storm. Conservative politicians and monks argue that sex education undermines Burmese culture.

A new school textbook, which features a fictional same-sex couple and young students who find themselves attracted to the opposite sex, has sparked outrage in Myanmar.

The opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Buddhist monks and conservative parents protested the distribution of the book, calling it immoral and a threat to Burmese culture.

The critics demand that the Ministry of Education revise the book’s content, including the country’s Grade 10 “life skills” course curriculum, which includes optional sex education.

In May, the USDP issued a statement arguing that sex education demoralizes Myanmar society and that the LGBT couple featured in the textbook would make students more accepting of same-sex relationships.

“It would not be okay if same-sex case studies are in the textbook as it hasn’t been culturally accepted in our country,” Maung Thynn, a retired Mandalay University rector from Meikhtila Township and a USDP member of parliament, told DW.

While Myanmar has opened up more to the LGBT+ community in recent years, same-sex relations are illegal under a British colonial-era law known as Section 377, which makes same sex punishable with up to 10 years in prison. Human rights groups have said the colonial legislation, although rarely enforced, has systematized homophobia and discrimination in Myanmar.

The subject of sex is still considered a taboo topic in the largely conservative Buddhist-majority country.

“It should be ok if doctors are sharing sex education information with students, but not the teachers. It would be awkward if teachers are teaching it to their students because [it is insensitive to] Myanmar culture,” Thynn said. “We don’t even dare to use the word “condom” in front of our parents and teachers,” he added.

The USDP member’s request to reject the new curriculum content has been rejected by parliament. The education ministry, however, said it would consider revising the life skills curriculum by altering the language used in the course.

For Yin Yin Hnoung, a 26-year-old doctor in Mandalay, the debate “started with the translation of the term ‘sex education’ into the Myanmar language.” He explained that the literal translation of the term made many people think the topic was “all about having sex.”

“Since then, they don’t want to accept sex education as a textbook topic. They consider the term sex education rude in Burmese society and culture,” Hnoung told DW. 

Lack of awareness about reproductive health

Young people make up more than half of Myanmar’s population, with ages 5-14 years compromising the largest age bracket.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Myanmar, many young people in the country still have a limited understanding of sexual and reproductive health. Myanmar also has one of Asia’s highest rates of adult HIV.

“Many young girls don’t even know about their individual reproductive health,” Thazin Myint, 21, a recent Yangon University graduate, told DW. Myint, a member of the University Muslim Students Network, said that many people belonging to Myanmar’s minority communities are unaware about sexual and reproductive health.

“Elders are not even willing to talk about it [sexual health] in their family in the Muslim community here,” she said.

Thuta Kyaw, a 20-year-old university student at Yangon’s Dagon University and a student union member, told DW thats his group allows young people to gain health awareness as “the university curriculum does not offer an even sex education.” Some teachers choose to exclude sex education in their life skills teachings.

Possible political motives

Sex education has been a controversial subject in the Southeast Asian country for decades. The topic was first introduced in 1998 as part of a UNICEF-supported extracurricular program along with information on HIV, nutrition, and hygiene. In 2016, the government integrated sex education into the life skills subject in schools.

“Those lessons have been in the curriculum for a long time, but only this time they receive criticism. The criticism may be political,” said U Ko Lay Win, the director general of Myanmar’s education ministry.

Win told DW that the recent criticism could be an attempt by the opposition parties to turn the public against Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party as Myanmar heads to the general election in November.

Nevertheless, “we will revise the words and case studies that received criticism from the people who do not like the lessons,” he said.

Credit: www.dw.com

Myanmar expects worst of Covid’s economic impact from Sept

Rain clouds linger over a construction site during the sunset in Yangon on June 3, 2020. (AFP photo)

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the most severe economic impact from the novel coronavirus outbreak is expected in the final four months of this year.

“We’d like to reassure the people that we’re well prepared to address the impacts,” Suu Kyi said in a panel discussion via video conference on Tuesday. “We believe we’ll be able to overcome them through inclusive cooperation.”

Thailand’s neighbour is due to receive $1.25 billion in emergency loans from international organisations, Thaung Tun, investment and foreign economic relations minister, said in the same panel.

The funds are coming from the International Monetary Fund, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Thaung Tun said. Further loans may be approved, taking total to $2 billion, according to the government.

Myanmar’s official novel coronavirus case count stands at 262, including six fatalities, although there are concerns some infections are undetected.

Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Myanmar growth to slow in 2020 but rebound next year, World Bank says

An overview of downtown Yangon from Sule. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times

Although economic growth for Myanmar is forecast to slow to 1.5 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this could rebound to 6pc by 2021, according to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2020 report released on June 8. The economy grew 6.3pc in 2019.

The slowdown is a result of domestic shutdowns, reduced tourism, as well as disrupted trade and manufacturing. However, the economy is expected to regain momentum next year if the global pandemic is brought under control and global trade resumes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also brings new challenges to Myanmar, as serious risks remain which could delay the country’s recovery next year.

For example, the pandemic will likely further slow potential growth in the region by weakening investment and the supply chains that have contributed to Myanmar growth over the last decade. Economic activity in the rest of Asia is forecast to contract by 1.2pc in 2020 before rebounding in 2021. The regional outlook will significantly deteriorate if global trade tensions re-escalate.

Based on a survey by the Asia Foundation, half the enterprises surveyed believed business survival represented a moderate or high risk, with garments and textiles, hotel and accommodations being at particularly high risk.

Meanwhile, 92pc of enterprises reported lower sales due to COVID – 19 with 74pc facing sharp declines of more than half of normal sales. Businesses also laid off on average 16pc of their employees due to COVID – 19.

“Our first order of business is to address the global health and economic emergency. Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.” World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, said.

Currently, the Myanmar government is focusing on improving trade and investment with flexible policies, providing financial stimulus to businesses and promoting digital platforms under its COVID – 19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP).

It is also trying to ensure the flow of essential goods such as food, commodities, medicines and medical supplies in the short-term, while raising investment promotion efforts and strengthening cooperation with development partners for more long term stability, Investment and Foreign Economic Relations’ Minister U Thaung Tun said last week.

Credit: www.mmtimes.com

India-Myanmar border trade down by 40 per cent

India-Myanmar border trade has gone down by over 40 per cent for the current fiscal year started October 1, 2019.

It is because of the temporary closure of border posts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to reports, the trade value went down from US$128 million to US$76 million for the same period, a decrease of 40 per cent.

India trades with Myanmar in Mizoram, Manipur, Tamu, Reed, and Thantlang borders.

On March 10 last, the Indian government decided to close border gates indefinitely at the Tamu (Sagaing Region) – Moreh in Manipur.

India is the fifth largest export destination for Myanmar and sixth largest source of imports according to figures from the Indian Embassy in Myanmar.

Also in March, the two governments had announced plans to import 400,000 tonnes of black gram beans from Myanmar between May 2020 and March 2021, according to the report.

Credit: nenow.in

Myanmar suspends visas until mid-June

YANGON, 4 June 2020: Myanmar has extended its suspension of all travel visas until 15 June according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ latest announcement posted on its website 1 June.

The announcement extends the suspension of all visas including visa exemptions that were introduced in mid-March under a ruling that was due to expire 31 May.

The entry ban covers e-visas, visa-on-arrival and includes all nationalities that eligible for visa-free travel to Myanmar.

Earlier this week some airlines posted details of the flights’ schedules that suggested they would resume flights to Myanmar’s capital this month.

Myanmar National Airlines filed timetable details for flights to Hong Kong and Singapore this month, but that plan has now been shelved.

Airlines are keen to renew services to facilitate essential travel, repatriation flights and cargo.

Credit: www.ttrweekly.com

Trash is treasure as Myanmar environmentalist turns food scraps into fertiliser

Inda Aung Soe and his wife Aye Aye Than collect food waste at the wet market to produce organic fertilizer in Yangon, Myanmar, Jun 3, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Zaw Naing)

YANGON: To most people in Myanmar, food waste is nothing but garbage, and that attitude leaves Inda Soe Aung baffled.

But the 35-year-old environmentalist isn’t complaining, because what he views as his compatriots’ lack of imagination has given him the business opportunity of a lifetime – turning what they throw away into fertiliser.

“People think that food waste is just trash, trash, trash,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to introduce to the public that food waste is a natural resource.” 

Each day, he collects about a tonne of food waste from wet markets near his home in Yangon’s North Dagon Township, pouring baskets of leftover vegetables into a cart before processing it into organic compost over the course of several months.

He started his business, Bokashi Myanmar, nearly two years ago and has so far created 500 tonnes of fertiliser, which he sells mainly for use in gardens and home farms.Advertisement

His aim is to triple production and help the environment by reducing greenhouse gases, while persuading other people to adopt the techniques for soil preservation and combating climate change he outlines on his company’s Facebook page.

Yangon authorities estimate that, across all categories, the fast-growing city generates 2,300-2,500 tonnes of waste each day, inundating landfill sites that are decreasing in number as demand for land grows.

Inda Soe Aung gets help from his wife, Aye Aye Than, who says she is proud of the business and its contribution to the environment.

“I thought that only poor and grassroots people worked with trash. But, I later realised that this job is providing a clean environment for my neighbours around me,” she said. 

Credit: www.channelnewsasia.com

SK Telecom sends cyber experts to Myanmar amid national SOC development

South Korean provider also targets expansion through Vietnam and Thailand

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) of Myanmar has moved to bolster cyber prevention and defence capabilities through a security-focused partnership with SK Telecom.

Terms of the contract will see the South Korean provider deploy a team of cyber security specialists to Myanmar to consult on the “design and establishment” of a security operation centre (SOC) at the government agency until the end of July.

Leveraging SK Telecom’s ‘Smart Guard’ solution, the team will attempt to diagnose security vulnerabilities within NCSC’s existing cyber security infrastructure, alongside offering infrastructure security management guidance and advice.

This is in addition to the provision of SIEM (security information and event management) offerings developed by Korean security specialist Igloo Security. The solution will “collect and analyse” information – such as logs, errors and hacking – generated by diverse systems including servers, network equipment and applications.

“We are pleased to establish our SOC with SK Telecom’s advanced technology and know-how in infrastructure security,” said Ko Ye Naing Moe, director of NCSC. “We will work closely with SK Telecom to better protect Myanmar’s national intelligence and intelligence resources.”

Operating as an agency under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, NCSC is tasked with safeguarding national intelligence against cyber threats, including hacking and distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, as well as protecting the nation’s information and communication networks.

“SK Telecom will work closely with the NCSC to build a sophisticated security operation system in Myanmar to strengthen its protection against the ever-increasing cyber threats,” said Shim Sang-soo, vice president of Infra Business at SK Telecom. “Going forward, armed with strong cyber security capabilities, we will seek further business opportunities in other Asian markets.”

Following the export of services to Myanmar – which Sang-soo said serves as a “strategic hub” connecting the emerging ASEAN markets – SK Telecom expects to expand security reach across other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand.

Credit: sg.channelasia.tech

The Building That Exploited Myanmar’s Oil Wealth

The former Burmah Oil Company headquarters on Merchant Street / Yangon Architecture

It was Burmah Oil Company (BOC) that monopolized Myanmar (then Burma)’s oil industry in the colonial period. Based on the corner of Merchant Street and 32nd Street in Yangon (then Rangoon), the building today houses the National Library of Myanmar.

Built in 1908 by the architect and contractor Robinson and Mundy, the building was originally the headquarters of the Scottish trading firm Fleming and Co which exported textiles and imported a variety of European merchandize, including shoes, paint and beverages.

The BOC took over the four-story building from Fleming and Co. It started operations in 1886, one year after the country’s last monarch, King Thibaw, was dethroned and exiled in India. The firm piped crude oil from Upper Myanmar to Thanlyin oil refinery across the Yangon River.

It produced petroleum, gasoline and candles and distributed internationally and domestically, reaching the most remote areas of the country.

The company also sold petrol, kerosene lamps and candles and its headquarters were alive with wholesalers and retailers, petroleum inspectors, representatives of foreign oil companies, tanker operators and globetrotting oil workers from the United States, UK, India and elsewhere.

One street away from the BOC’s headquarters, the Steel Brothers and Co Ltd, which monopolized the country’s rice industry in the colonial period, opened its headquarters on what is now Bo Sun Pat Street.

The simply designed BOC office played an important role in modernizing the colonialized society which had no access to electricity or the international fuel markets. The country’s oil only made up for 1 percent of total global production, but 20 percent of the British Empire’s overall output.

National crude oil production rose to 1 million tons annually by the 1930s, with 80 percent of that total coming from BOC. The company also established BOC College to train engineers, technicians and workers for its operations.

BOC enjoyed its most profitable years during the 1920s when it was listed among the top 10 British manufacturing firms. Crude oil was the second-largest source of foreign currency income ahead of World War II, according to Myanmar Encyclopedia.

Indigenous oil workers earned a tiny fraction of the salaries of British officials at the BOC and endured miserable, crowded living conditions.

In a bid for better conditions, thousands of oil workers marched about 650 kilometers from Chauk in today’s Magway Region to Yangon despite a violent crackdown by the colonial government. They were joined by thousands of other workers, farmers and people from all strata of society in what would become the first movement for independence.

The movement in 1938 was significant as a national uprising against colonial rule and became known as the Revolution of 1300, named after Myanmar’s calendar.

The British general manager of the BOC, Harold Roper, was kept busy having to report to the board of directors in London about the strike, negotiate with the colonial government and answer media questions. On March 15, 1939, oil workers managed to block all entrances to the BOC’s head office by lying down on the pavements around the building. Hours later, the police forcibly dispersed the protesters and detained 123 of them.

When World War II broke out, the BOC – which exploited the country’s oil resources under the umbrella of the colonial government – abandoned its head office, burning documents and maps.

The abandoned building survived the war but the interior was a shambles with no furniture or equipment. As oil fields and equipment were destroyed by the retreating British, the country’s supplies of kerosene and candles ran out.

After independence, BOC shared the building with the Ideal Nursing Home, also known as the Sanpya Clinic. In 1963, the BOC was sold to the Revolutionary Council government, ending 55 years of foreign ownership.

The building then housed the office of the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) for the next 40 years. It was left vacant when the MOGE moved to Naypyitaw in 2005 and 2006. Most of the roof was destroyed by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and the building was renovated by the Construction Ministry in 2010.

After the National League for Democracy won the 2015 general election and U Htin Kyaw, the son of influential intellectual Min Thu Wun, became the president, he allowed the building to house the National Library.

While some colonial-era buildings house hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, the 112-year-old former BOC office has become a public building.

By: WEI YAN AUNG
Credit: www.irrawaddy.com

More than 1 million doses of vaccines and 10,000 COVID-19 test kits arrive in Myanmar as immunization services resume

© UNICEF Myanmar/2020/Nyan Zay Htet

COVID-19 response in Myanmar

YANGON, 01 June 2020 – Today, 1.16 million doses of routine immunization vaccines funded by the Ministry of Health and Sports and procured through UNICEF arrived at the Yangon International airport, to support the resumption of immunization services across Myanmar. The UNICEF chartered cargo flight arranged with the cooperation of Scanned Global Logistics also brought the second batch of 10,000 COVID-19 test kits and other supplies as part of UNICEF’s ongoing support to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) to scale up testing capacity and fight the pandemic.

Since March 2020, routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of the expanded programme on immunization (EPI) in the 1970s. Similarly, in Myanmar, routine immunization services were temporarily halted from 1st April by the Ministry of Health and Sports, to allow the health sector to focus on its COVID-19 prevention and response activities and to maintain physical distancing measures to contain the spread of the virus.

However, the resumption of immunisation services was carefully planned and prepared for, taking account of essential infection prevention measures, alongside standard operational guidelines for health workers, and instructions for care takers to follow. With minimum community transmission in the country, where the confirmed cases are from quarantine sites, routine immunization was resumed in Government hospitals across the country from 18th May and will re-commence in rural health centres and communities from 1st June 2020.

“The Ministry of Health and Sports will continue vaccination services not only for all the eligible children who missed the regular doses in April and May, but also for the children who missed any of the routine vaccinations for other reasons in the past. We would like to request care takers to cooperate with health workers, to follow the recommended infection prevention and control measures, social distancing and hand hygiene measures when attending the vaccination clinics so that all the children are vaccinated safely and can stay away from COVID-19,” said Dr. Myint Htwe, Minister of Health and Sports.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, immunization sessions need a customized approach where services are provided following relevant infection prevention and control and safety measures associated with COVID-19. To minimize the risks of infection for health staff and community members, immunization posts will administer vaccines to an average of 50 children per day to ensure the vaccination posts are systematically organized in line with the recommended measures for COVID-19 prevention.

“COVID-19 is an eye-opener for all of us; it proves that outbreaks can happen in many countries all at the same time. Similarly, vaccine preventable diseases, like measles can re-surge at any time if coverage goes down. Therefore, Myanmar is taking a commendable step in resuming childhood vaccinations now,” said Dr. Stephan Paul Jost, WHO Representative to Myanmar.

UNICEF has been working closely with the Government of Myanmar, WHO, Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and other partners to facilitate the imminent arrival of vaccines in routine immunization programme in Myanmar.

“It is essential to complete the required doses of immunization at the right time with quality vaccines, to save the lives of children and reduce the risk of vaccine preventable outbreaks especially in the remote, hard to reach and conflict affected areas where the health needs are immense,” said Ms. June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar. “UNICEF remains committed to supporting the Government’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and to ensure that children continue to receive other essential services to keep them healthy during this outbreak,” added Ms. Kunugi.

Using the platform of immunization services, the Ministry of Health and Sports will also resume EPI plus activities which include health literacy and promotion, maternal and child health and nutrition promotion activities.

Credit: reliefweb.int