Poverty rates in Myanmar were on track to triple in the country's urban centers and push nearly half of the country's population below the poverty rate, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said on Wednesday.
A new UNDP survey of 1,200 respondents which took place from May to June 2021 showed that nearly half, or about 25 million people, of Myanmar's population of 55 million would be living below the poverty line by early next year.
The poverty rates are expected to return to levels not seen since 2005 after the political strife that followed a February coup in which Myanmar's military junta ousted the country's elected government.
The increasing poverty rates were also exacerbated by COVID-19.
Specifically, textile, tourism, hospitality and construction sectors, which are largely housed in Myanmar's urban centers, have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Congestion, inadequate infrastructure and limited access to piped water in these urban areas have contributed to worsening the spread of the virus, the UNDP said.
"A slide into poverty of this scale could mean the disappearance of the middle class - a bad omen for any rapid recovery from this crisis," Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Kanni Wignaraja said in a statement.
The survey noted that the poverty increases posed a "risk to nutrition, health and education, which will negatively impact on the human capital of the next generation." Major urban areas like Mandalay and Yangon are expected to see more people fall into poverty while people who are already impoverished in these areas are expected to fall further below the poverty line.