A new census report reveals that an estimated 13.5 million people, a quarter of Myanmar’s population, live in housing that is made of materials that can deteriorate rapidly. 3.8 million homes – new or with improved roofing, walls and/or floors – are needed to address the immediate housing needs of people whose homes are deficient or extremely deficient.
“There is an urgent need to address Myanmar’s housing challenges holistically. We need to look at all aspects of living conditions, including health, sanitation, electricity, communications and safety. Space is also a key element to dignified housing. People need homes that allow for privacy for families as well as for intimacy between couples,” says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.
The findings come from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report on Housing Conditions and Household Amenities, published by the Government of Myanmar and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The report shows that the average household size is 4.4. Most households consist of couples living with children (41.4 per cent) and couples living with children and other relatives (17.2 per cent).
Safe and hygienic sanitation is key to a healthy living environment. And while more than two-thirds of households (69.5 per cent) have access to an “improved source of drinking water”, this still means that 16 million people in Myanmar, primarily in rural areas, do not have access to safe drinking water. Worldwide, diarrheal diseases that are commonly spread by contaminated water kill more children than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.
And while three quarters of households (74.3 per cent) have access to “improved sanitation”, this still means that 13 million people, again primarily in rural areas, do not have access to a toilet or latrine that hygienically separates feces from human contact. 1.5 million of these people have no access to a toilet at all.
“For women and girls who have to relieve themselves and manage their menstrual hygiene in the open or in a shared facility, this makes them particularly vulnerable, and puts them at risk of harassment and physical assault, especially after dark”, says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.
An estimated 81.6 per cent of households use unsustainable energy sources, particularly firewood, for cooking. 55 per cent use unsustainable sources of energy for lighting, including candles, kerosene, batteries and generators. Energy sources used for cooking and lighting have a direct effect on indoor air quality. On the one hand, housing designs should be improved so that firewood can safely be used for cooking. On the other, there is a need to encourage wider use of modern and sustainable energy such as solar power, liquefied petroleum gas and electricity. The fact that modern and sustainable sources of energy are already used for lighting to a greater extent indicates a scope to use these for cooking as well.
About 49 per cent of households have access to a television, 35.5 per cent to a radio, and 3.5 per cent to a computer. 32.9 per cent reported having access to a mobile phone, although this figure is significantly higher today than in 2014 when the census was conducted. About a third of households (30.3 per cent), primarily in rural areas, did not have access any information or communication device. 38.7 per cent of households have access to a motorcycle, 35.9 per cent to a bicycle, and 3.1 per cent to a car.
While home ownership is high in Myanmar at 85.5 per cent, it is lower in urban areas (66 per cent) and also, as can be expected, among younger people. Only 14.6 per cent of household heads aged 25-34 own the home they live in.
“Many young people, especially those with family responsibilities, need the stability and security of a home as much as older people do. The census data on housing calls for deliberate interventions, such as improved access to mortgages for people of all ages,” says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.
The findings in the report reveal huge differences in housing conditions between urban and rural areas as well as between states, regions and districts, not least in the durability of the materials that homes are built from, and in access to information and communication devices. The census results on housing and household amenities can inform policy and planning nationally as well as locally. They also provide important benchmarks as Myanmar progresses towards national and international development goals.