The World Bank has joined the international community in condemning the deadly violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which led to forced displacement of more than 730,000 Rohingya. Since that crisis, we have adjusted our country strategy in Myanmar with a much greater focus on social inclusion, particularly in conflict-affected areas.
We are deeply concerned about continued mobility and other restrictions in place in Rakhine State. These restrictions have a profound impact on the livelihoods of affected communities and the economic and social development of the state.
We are committed to supporting both Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and programs in Rakhine that will help all communities, including the remaining Rohingya, access essential services and economic opportunities. To this end, we are working closely with relevant UN agencies and consulting with communities in Rakhine, international NGOs, advocacy groups and our shareholders, who have encouraged us to continue to stay engaged.
To help Rohingya refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh, we have made available close to half-a-billion dollars in grants that are financing operations in areas such as health, education, and water and sanitation services.
In Rakhine State, we are considering a project that would directly support communities through short-term employment and basic income-generating activities. Project activities would start in central Rakhine and move to other areas as conditions allow, in coordination with development partners. For remaining Rohingya, some of whom depend on humanitarian assistance, the project would provide a much-needed cash influx to families and help them build skills for future livelihoods.
The project would build on several UN initiatives that are working to alleviate extreme poverty in the state and would support implementation of recommendations by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State that was led by the late Kofi Annan, which are universally accepted as the blueprint for resolving the crisis.
The World Bank has been engaged in Myanmar since 2012 to support the country’s fundamental economic transition. Our portfolio helps build modern institutions and systems, while expanding provision of basic services like rural electrification, basic education and primary health care in all states and regions of the country.
The World Bank’s involvement in any project depends on clear social and environmental principles which do not tolerate exclusion or discrimination, and we have made it clear to the government of Myanmar that the proposed project would need to benefit all communities in Rakhine. Requirements for unimpeded access by all communities to project-supported services and livelihood opportunities would be integral to the proposed project.
We understand that efforts to reduce poverty and promote more inclusive growth alone are not sufficient to address insecurity and discrimination in Rakhine State. They are one element of what is needed to improve the welfare of the estimated 600,000 remaining Rohingya and others living in the state, and could help begin to create the conditions for an eventual voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees.
Since the project was first proposed, we have had productive and open discussions with international and local NGOs that have raised issues of how the project would be implemented and monitored to ensure safety and inclusion. We share many of these concerns and are committed to finding ways to address them in both project design and in our dialogue with the government.
The project is in the early stages of preparation and much due diligence is yet to be completed before our Board of Executive Directors would consider it for approval. If it becomes clear that conditions in Rakhine State are such that the project cannot be effective, we will not pursue it.
We will remain closely engaged with our development partners and shareholders to find ways to help all the people of Rakhine State. The development needs in the state are acute. Its per capita GDP is 25 percent below the country average and 78 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. People in Rakhine have less access to sanitation, drinking water, and electricity than in any other state in Myanmar. We believe that inclusive development will be essential for social cohesion, and we will continue to work to help lay the groundwork for a more peaceful and prosperous future for Rakhine State and Myanmar.