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Cablegate: A Snapshot of Poverty in Rangoon

VZCZCXRO7666
RR RUEHBZ RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #1001/01 2830103
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 100103Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6656
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1536
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0582
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4627
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4115
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7672
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5231
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1213
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1113
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0076
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3333
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1016
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 001001

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EEB/IFD/ODF
PACOM FOR FPA
TREASURY FOR OASIA:SCHUN

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN PREL BM
SUBJECT: A SNAPSHOT OF POVERTY IN RANGOON

REF: A) RANGOON 952 B) RANGOON 901

RANGOON 00001001 001.4 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary. Poverty levels in Burma continue to rise, as a
result of higher prices and decreasing purchasing power. During
visits to several of Rangoon's poorest areas, we observed this
escalating abject poverty firsthand. In Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha
Townships, many people do not have steady jobs and are forced to
scrounge to make a living. People spend more than 80 percent of
their income on food, but can only afford to eat one meal a day.
Large families of seven or eight live in one-room huts and can
neither afford to send their children to school nor pay for medical
care. Although poverty is becoming more widespread, the Burmese
Government will not implement poverty alleviating measures and
refuses to address the root causes of destitution in Burma. End
Summary.

Poverty in Burma
----------------

2. (SBU) Poverty levels in Burma continue to rise annually.
According to the UNDP, 32 percent of Burma's 50 million people live
in poverty, compared to 25 percent in 1997. (Note: for UNDP
statistics, the poverty line is 162,136 kyat or $115 per year per
adult. End Note.) 71 percent of Burmese live in rural areas; UNDP
estimates that 36 percent of these people, particularly those living
in Chin, Shan, and Rakhine States, live below the poverty line. A
majority of the Burmese people earns less than $1/day, and spends
more than 75 percent of their income on food. On August 15, the
Burmese Government unexpectedly increased the price of fuel, raising
prices by more than 100 percent. This action triggered an immediate
increase in commodity and transportation costs (Ref B). Declining
purchasing power and the rising costs of basic needs, estimated to
be increasing 23 percent per month, have caused a increase in
poverty levels throughout Burma.

How the Poorest Live in Rangoon
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) Rangoon, compared to the rest of Burma, has one of the
country's lowest poverty rates. Nevertheless, 15 percent of
Rangoon's population (estimated at more than 6 million) lives below
the poverty line. During visits to two of Rangoon's poorest
neighborhoods, Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha, we saw abject poverty
firsthand. Getting to both places was easy, as both Hlainthaya and
Shwepyitha are home to several of Rangoon's largest industrial
zones. In each township, however, we found that when we turned off
the main road, we found ourselves on small and narrow dirt roads
that led to a different world.
4. (SBU) In downtown Rangoon, most people live in houses or
apartments made of cement. In Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha, people
live in one-room huts made of wood, many of which are covered with
thatched straw roofs. The poorest homes do not have any roofs, but
instead are covered with plastic to keep the rain out. Some huts
have dirt floors and others have bamboo flooring; there is often
little or no furniture in these homes. Residents do not have access
to electricity or piped water, and instead must obtain water from a
communal well. Although the average household size in Burma is 5.2
people, in Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha, local residents told us that
between seven and eight people, both adults and children, live in
huts.

5. (SBU) More than 250,000 people live in Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha
Townships. While some work in factories located in the industrial
zones, most people are unable to find any real work. Kyauk Chein, a
laborer who lives in Hlainthaya with his family, told us that many
people in his neighborhood scrounge to make a daily living. Some
collect tree branches to sell as firewood; others pick leaves and
plants to sell in local markets. Kyauk Chein told us that his

RANGOON 00001001 002.4 OF 003


friends and neighbors previously sold their blood to local clinics
for 2,000-3,000 kyat ($1.40-$2.15) a pint. Locals in Shwepyitha
told us that young girls who cannot find work in factories often
work in "karaoke clubs," which are poorly-disguised fronts for sex
parlors.

Lack of Basic Necessities
-------------------------

6. (SBU) Because of the lack of income and rising commodity prices,
the majority of people living in Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha only eat
one meal a day. A typical meal consists of rice, vegetables, and
perhaps some fish. Locals told us that they spend approximately
2,000 kyats ($1.40) a day to feed a family of eight. Those who
cannot afford food drink rice water (water boiled with scraps of
rice). Residents of Hlainthaya who work in downtown Rangoon
complained to us about higher transportation costs since August 15.
Bus fares from Hlainthaya to downtown Rangoon almost doubled that
day, from 80 kyat ($0.06) to 150 kyat ($0.11). People who cannot
afford to get to work still try to ride the bus for 80 kyat,
residents added. Some drivers still allow them to ride for old
fares, but others demand full payment and push them off the bus when
the riders cannot pay.

7. (SBU) Lack of affordable medical care and clothing are
additional woes, local residents noted. Kyauk Chein told us that he
had five children, but two died because he could not pay to take
them to the local clinic. He, like other residents, worries
whenever his children become sick and need medicine. Most of the
people living in Hlainthaya and Shwepyitha cannot afford to buy
clothes, and instead have to depend on donations of used clothing to
clothe themselves and their children.

8. (SBU) For children living in these areas, school is also a
luxury. Because parents spend more than 75 percent of their income
on food, they usually cannot afford to send their children to
school. As a result, many children living in Hlainthaya and
Shwepyitha are illiterate. Local residents explained that parents
often send their children to downtown Rangoon to work. Children
find local housing, work in tea shops for low wages, and remit their
savings to their parents.

Government Neglect
------------------

9. (SBU) The people we spoke to all complained that the GOB does
nothing to assist them. Although the industrial areas of Hlainthaya
and Shwepyitha have paved roads and electricity, the poorest
neighborhoods nearby lack basic infrastructure. If it were not for
local and international NGOs working in the area, locals asserted,
people would live in even worse conditions. The fuel price hike
only worsened the situation and was the spark that started the
public demonstrations against the government, residents told us.
However, instead of addressing the root causes of the protests, the
government violently suppressed the demonstrations. The government
refuses to listen to our pleas for help, they added.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) Although abject poverty in Burma is becoming more
widespread, the government turns a blind eye to the public's
desperate needs. Instead, the GOB continues to implement uninformed
economic policies that line the pockets of the senior generals at
the expense of the people. As the economic crisis worsens and more
people find themselves unable to make ends meet, our continued
support for NGOs assisting the poor will literally make a difference
between life and death.

RANGOON 00001001 003.6 OF 003

STOLTZ

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