The World Bank has announced a $2 billion development programme in Myanmar, which will focus on improving energy and healthcare in one of Asia’s poorest countries.
The announcement was made during a visit by bank president Jim Yong Kim, his first to Myanmar, and will help boost a country where less than 30 percent of the population has reliable access to electricity and large parts of the rural community have little or no access to healthcare.
“We are increasing our support for the huge reform effort under way in Myanmar because we want to help the government bring benefits to poor people even more quickly,” Kim said during his visit. “Expanding access to electricity in a country like Myanmar can help transform a society. Children will be able to study at night, shops will stay open and health clinics will have lights and energy to power life-saving technology. Electricity helps bring an end to poverty.”
About a tenth of the fund, roughly $200 million, will contribute to programmes that will supply universal healthcare to the country by 2030. The funding, the bank says, will increase access to essential health services for women and children and provide much-needed healthcare to those who cannot afford it. Another $80 million in grants is already helping rural communities in schools, roads, water and other infrastructure projects, while other aspects of the projects include improved access to telecommunications in rural areas, improving financial management systems and providing grants to schools and poor students.
“World Bank’s support to developing electrical power is very good. Many places in the country suffer from poor power supply, so this is needed,” said economist U Thar Lwin.
However, during his address Kim warned Myanmar against corruption as increased international aid comes into the country amid the unprecedented reforms currently taking place.
Recalling an incident in Bangladesh when he was forced to shut down a programme due to corruption, Kim warned Myanmar not to suffer from the same fate.
“I would not hesitate to do that again if we were to find evidence of corruption in any of the projects,” he said, adding that the Bank will monitor the programmes closely to ensure that the funds go into the necessary areas.
World Bank ceased operations in Myanmar, then Burma, in 1987 after the then-ruling military junta stopped payments on debts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Through aid from Japan, last year Myanmar was able to clear debts to World Bank and Asian Development Bank, seeing a return of the banks at a time of much-needed development.
During his visit, Kim also met with President Thein Sein as well as other government members, opposition leaders and businesspeople in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.