Myanmar has experienced a surge in migration over the last decade. Many were forced to abandon their homes following Cyclone Nargis is 2008. However, the lifting of restrictions on internal migration, and the attraction of foreign investment has led to a rapid increase in the number of migrants to urban areas, and an increase in the economy of around 6% annually. The garment sector is one of Myanmar’s strongest parts of the economy, with exports of clothes and shows increasing tenfold between 2008 and 2018.
The growth of migrants has led to the development of large slums surrounding factories. Most houses are built from bamboo, nipa palm and tarpaulin and have just one room. Standards of living are low – there is limited sanitation, floods during the summer monsoon, high crime rates and high rates of diseases such as tuberculosis. For some, urbanisation leads to jobs in the formal sector, but for many they have to find employment in the informal sector.
Urbanisation is having an impact in rural areas too. Rural areas are experiences a decline in workers, especially among young adults. This means that there are fewer people to perform communal tasks such as repairing roads and bridges. There is also a shortage of labourers for farming. This is pushing up the cost of rural labour, squeezing the profits made by farmers. In some areas, such as the Ayeyarday region, west of Yangon, some farmers have given up farming or switched from labour intensive farming or invested in machinery.
Around one million Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh are living in over-crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar in the south of the country. The Bangladeshi government plans to move some 100,000 Rohingyas to the low-lying silt island of Bhasan Char, some 20 km from the mainland. The island (a spit that gets cut off from the mainland during summer) is just 52 km2 in size. The island is prone to severe flooding and cyclones and takes over three hours to reach by boat. The island only formed some twenty years ago, and is not stable. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the island has a cyclone shelter and a pond, so that people can fish.
Migration in and from Myanmar is not providing the improved lifestyle that most migrants seek. While some may become better off, it may take time, but they may have left behind conditions which were intolerable, only, for some, to replace them with other conditions that are also intolerable.