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Populations in Peril: Decoding Patterns of Forced Displacement in Myanmar

May 31st, 2024  •  Author:   The World Bank  •  7 minute read
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Executive Summary

The objective of this report is to systematically document the living conditions of the internally displaced population (IDPs) in Myanmar that have been forcefully displaced since the military coup of 2021. IDPs are likely among the poorest and most vulnerable in Myanmar. Most IDPs originate in states and regions that had not experienced forced displacement before February 2021. With official data collection activities suspended, there is a lack of systematic data or information on the displacement experiences of the poorest households in Myanmar and their well-being amid multiple rounds of crises. Most accounts of IDP conditions rely on field-based reports from journalists and other organizations. Moreover, the number of IDPs in Myanmar continues to grow due to ongoing conflict. These circumstances underscore the need to assess the living standards of IDPs in Myanmar.

The report uses data from the Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment (MSNA). This household survey, which prominently includes IDPs in its sample, was conducted in 2023 by a research and data collection agency in collaboration with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Inter-cluster Coordination Group (which includes the Shelter and NFI cluster).

This report is the first to put a spotlight on the household well-being levels of IDPs in Myanmar, who have been displaced since the military coup of 2021, and the first to provide a data-driven account of the displacement experience of IDPs in the country. The report highlights differences in demographic, socio-economic, livelihoods, and human capital characteristics, as well as differences in exposure to shocks and coping strategies across IDPs, households that have returned to their pre-displacement locations (“returnees”), and households that have never experienced displacement (“the non-displaced communities”). The report also underscores differences in welfare outcomes across IDPs depending on whether they reside in planned settlement locations, unplanned sites, or non-settlement areas.

The report finds cyclic patterns of forced displacement where IDPs are repeatedly forced to seek shelter from violence, conflict and other security reasons. IDPs displaced since February 2021 (“new IDPs” or “newly displaced IDPs”) reported 5-6 displacement events between 2021 and 2023. Displacement was highly localized with most households seeking shelter within the same township as their pre-displacement location. New IDPs are predominantly rural and take shelter in locations that are planned and organized by community-based organizations. IDPs living in such areas typically have a coordination system that can ensure access to public goods and services.

The demographic profiles of IDPs shows scars of violence and conflict. IDP families are more likely to be single parent and have more members below 20 years of age, than any other group. These single parent families are disproportionately female-headed and are more likely to report a widowed civil status than other households. The high share of female-headed households could be a result of higher mortality rates experienced by male-heads of IDP families.

IDPs in unplanned settlement sites are likely the most vulnerable of all groups. They suffer from poor housing conditions, possess fewer identification documents and report more movement restrictions than any other group of IDPs. The biggest restriction around free internal mobility occurs at designated checkpoint locations

IDPs are more at risk of landmine contamination than any other group. Households in the survey were less likely to report physical harm or injuries due to landmine contamination. Instead, reports of loss of livelihoods due to landmine exposure were higher among IDP families.

School dropout rates among IDPs are 3x that of households who have not experienced forced displacements. When IDPs do enroll in school, they are more likely to attend informal institutions. But informal education centers may not be able to cater to the learning needs at more advanced levels. As a result, dropout rates are higher among older children. IDPs also depend heavily on more informal health facilities that are run by community-based organizations. IDPs face more difficulties in paying for health care services than accessing or travelling to health centers due to security challenges. Finally, coordination mechanisms in IDP settlement locations are generally associated with lower school dropout rate and greater access to informal education and health services compared to other displaced groups.

Unemployment is the most important challenge for forcefully displaced families. IDPs have unemployment rates that is 3x that of non-displaced households. Male IDPs are more likely to be unemployed than females. Kayah, a state with high conflict intensity, has among the highest unemployment rates in the country. In addition to high unemployment levels, IDPs also have high levels of children participating in labor activities.

Unlike non-displaced households, heightened security risks do not affect IDPs’ willingness to find or perform work. However, regulatory barriers and a worsening environment that makes it difficult to conduct business activities causes their unemployment rates to rise. One example of an environment factor that leads to adverse climate for business activities is exposure to IEDs and explosives. Landmine contamination around IDP settlements is robustly associated with higher rates unemployment. However, providing communities with landmine contamination education increases the chance of employment. Self-reported data from the survey shows that these education programs are associated with more employment because they likely may lead to an improvement in surrounding business conditions, for example by allowing greater retail activities to flourish around neighborhoods. This channel could therefore lead to higher employment among IDP households.

Earning data from MSNA confirms that IDPs are among the poorest households in Myanmar.

Average monthly earnings of non-displaced households are 80 percent higher than IDPs and 50 percent higher than returnee households. Labor outcomes of IDPs continue to lag those who have not been displaced, even if we control for households’ rural/urban status: IDPs living in rural areas report higher levels of unemployment and greater incidence of child labor than non-displaced households living in rural locations.

Most IDPs rely on casual wages, followed by agriculture and self-employment opportunities. About one-fifth of all IDPs and one-tenth of returnees reported humanitarian assistance as one of their top 3 income sources. IDPs living in planned locations rely strongly on casual employment and humanitarian assistance. Only a handful of such families are engaged in self-employment or crop- production. In comparison, those in unplanned are more actively engaged in farming.

Consumption data shows that even among IDPs, those living in unplanned locations are poorer than others living in planned or non-settlement areas. These households are disproportionately affected by high food and fuel prices and allocate more of their budgets to food and fuel than any other group. As a result, their budgetary allocation to long-term human capital investment in education and health is lower than other groups.

IDPs in unplanned locations have larger households and lower food security. The higher levels of farming observed among this group likely reflect subsistence farming rather than commercial, market-oriented crop production. Large household sizes and high food insecurity lead IDPs to adopt emergency-level coping strategies. IDPs in unplanned locations are 4 to 8 times more likely to engage in such coping strategies than other groups.

Due to a significantly higher rate of open defecation, IDPs in unplanned locations are at high risk of exposure to fecal bacteria. Exposure to fecal bacteria for children under 5 years carries long- term human capital risk of stunting, wasting, and undernourishment. IDPs are generally well- connected to financial services that can be offered over the phone. Sixty-seven percent of IDPs in planned sites and about 50 percent of those in unplanned sites have access to mobile money platforms. In comparison, about half of all returnee and non-displaced households have accessibility to mobile money channels.

Compared to non-displaced households in rural areas, rural IDPs are more likely to have children that are out of school, more likely seek community-based healthcare services, and more likely to suffer more from adverse mental health conditions. In addition, rural IDPs report higher levels of unemployment and greater incidence of child labor than non-displaced households living in rural locations.

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