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Myanmar needs to invest more in human development

Cranes from construction and a high building lie under clouds at early morning in Yangon. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Human development challenges of Myanmar are closely related to ensuring policies and programs that attain sustainable development goals (SDGs). The 2016 human development report released by UNDP last week identifies the progress in various indicators that form human development index (HDI) and sets out the agenda for the coming years. Good news from the report is that Myanmar has moved into the group of countries that recorded medium levels of human development a significant step ahead from a low human development country. HDI is calculated based on key and sensitive indicators viz., life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling of children, mean years of education among the adult population and per capita gross national income. HDI value and position in comparison to other countries indicate that Myanmar has a total score of 0.556 HDI in 2015 and stands at a position of 145 out of 188 countries for which the index is calculated. The same score in 2014 was 0.536 and stood at the rank of 148. These are significant numbers as they indicate that the country is progressing consistently in the area of human development over many years. However there are challenges; Myanmar stands significantly behind its ASEAN neighbors on several indicators of human development.

Human Development Indicator

Value - 2015

Life expectancy at Birth (years)


Expected years of schooling (years)


Mean years of schooling (years)


Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, (2011 PPP$)


Human Development Index – value


Given the emphasis on human development investments by the new government, one would expect further improvements in some of the indicators in the coming years as well. Improvements in education, skill development and health care are critical so also income earning opportunities for vast majority of people.That would significantly contribute to the human development indicators. There are several policy initiatives during the past one year that addresses socio economic development of the country. However lot more to be done in terms of institutions and governance, particularly on policy predictability, framing of rules and procedures for rolling out policies. Economic policy statement of the government identifies the need for reform steps in agriculture, rural development, financial sector, industrialization and foreign direct investment. The country is poised for a take-off in terms of social development indicators as the budgets for social sectors has been on the rise, though they are still at lower levels compared to ASEAN countries. The national education strategic plan of 2016-21 identifies transformational goals in education sector which would ensure significant gains in the coming years. It demands harmonization of donor support and augmenting domestic resource mobilization to sustain investments for human development. Same is the case with health sector reforms. It is in this context that a mission mode is required to address some of the key human development goals which form part of SDGs.

Along with HDI, there are some significant aspects that the HDR 2016 discusses, particularly to understand country’s progress on sustainable development goals as well as life-course gender gap indicators. This is important as Myanmar is yet to develop a national action plan for the sustainable development goals. An analysis of 15 key indicators of sustainable development shows that there is lot more of agenda to be addressed by Myanmar. While there is no data for 6 indicators, the silver lining is that Myanmar is able to show higher performance on renewable energy use as well as carbon emission levels.This indicates the need for further adoption of green technologies in production so that the gains are retained. Policy coherence for accommodating environmental and social sustainability is critical for Myanmar in its quest for economic growth and human development.

HDR 2016 also indicates the need for a robust statistical data on various socio economic and development indicators in order to measure human development in a more comprehensive way. Measures like Inequality adjusted human development (IHDI), gender development index (GDI), multi- dimensional poverty index that provide more nuanced analysis and policy options on human development could not be calculated for Myanmar due to paucity of data. This is an agenda that the government needs to undertake on priority basis.

* Upendranadh Choragudi works with ActionAid Myanmar, and the opinions expressed in this article are his own.

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