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Bangkok – Regardless of the outcome in Burma’s first elections for twenty years, the incoming government
will inherit a legacy of widespread and chronic poverty throughout the country. Government statistics
disguise the extent of suffering, but aid agencies report the vulnerabilities in eastern Burma have been
exacerbated by protracted armed conflict and restrictions on humanitarian access.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) and local partners have conducted household poverty
assessments across eastern Burma and compared the results with surveys conducted elsewhere in Burma
by other humanitarian agencies. Indicators of vulnerability in eastern Burma were significantly higher than
government figures, and comparable to the worst findings that have been reported anywhere in the country.

Official data suggest that poverty rates in Kachin State and Magway Division are amongst the worst in the
nation, but the findings released by TBBC indicate that basic living conditions are inferior in eastern Burma.
Three quarters of households in rural areas of eastern Burma will suffer from staple food shortages for at
least three months this year, while access to income and employment is more limited than elsewhere in the

These findings corroborate a recent report by community based health organisations which suggest public
health conditions in eastern Burma are amongst the worst in the world. “It is a crime that so many in eastern
Burma, particularly women and children, are dying of preventable and treatable diseases”, said Dr Cynthia
Maung who has treated patients affected by conflict for over twenty years.

Decades of military rule have resulted in gross economic mismanagement, massive under-investment in
social services and a climate where human rights are abused with impunity. The response by western
governments to restrict humanitarian assistance pending political change has compounded the problem to
the extent that the annual foreign aid budget for Burma remains around US$4 per capita which is negligible
compared to neighbouring countries.

“Burma’s government has been indifferent to civilian suffering for decades, and there is no indication the
elections will change that in the immediate future. However, the needs are acute and there are capacities
within independent agencies based along the border and in Rangoon to absorb additional funding
immediately”, said Jack Dunford, TBBC’s Executive Director.

TBBC and community-based partners have documented the destruction, forced relocation or abandonment
of more than 3,600 civilian settlements in eastern Burma since 1996. At least 73,000 people were forced to
leave their homes during the past year, and over 446,000 people remain internally displaced in the rural
areas of eastern Burma alone. The highest rates of displacement were recorded in the northern Karen areas
as a result of armed conflict and Burmese Army attacks against civilians.

“The scale of displacement and poverty may seem overwhelming, but villagers in conflict-affected areas are
highly resilient. Independent data on vulnerability levels is empowering aid agencies to strengthen coping
strategies by becoming more responsive to humanitarian, rather than political, agendas”, said Mr Dunford.


Enquiries (in Thailand) :

Sally Thompson, TBBC Deputy Executive Director: +66 (0)22385027 (English)
Saw Steve, Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People +66 (0)862083131 (English and Burmese)

“Protracted Displacement and Chronic Poverty in Eastern Burma / Myanmar” is available from http://www.tbbc.org