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Australia could double or triple its aid funding to Myanmar (Burma) – and thus further help its poverty-stricken people – without compromising its political ideals, a Deakin University PhD candidate and the winner of Deakin University’s Three Minute Thesis believes.
Anthony Ware, a PhD candidate with the School of International and Political Studies, said Myanmar, better known to many as Burma, is a desperately poor country.
“At least half the population live on less than $1 a day – some suggest that figure could be as high as 90%,” he said.
“Definitely 90% of births are unattended in village houses, while 75% of children are underweight.
“Under normal circumstances we'd expect a concerted global effort to assist these people. “But Myanmar is a very complex context for agencies to operate in.’’
Mr Ware said Myanmar has been under military rule for the last 48 years, and has a very poor human rights record.
“So while Myanmar has very significant need, it faces some of the toughest international sanctions in the world, and receives the lowest amount of international aid,” he said.
“Working in Myanmar is a balancing act between the international community, who are very concerned that aid does not prolong the rule of the military, and a Myanmar government deeply suspicious about the motives of Western agencies.”
Mr Ware’s research asks, how do the most effective development agencies operate in Myanmar, in particular, in what ways do they change what they do – or how they do it – because of the Myanmar’s unique characteristics.
Mr Ware said the biggest obstacle to the work of these agencies in alleviating poverty in the country is actually not the Myanmar government, whatever we want to think of them, but the low amount of aid being donated and the restrictions placed on its use by Western countries.
“If you listen to most of the press about Myanmar you would come away with the view that getting anything done in the country is impossible, but it isn't.”
Mr Ware said the cyclone in 2008 had actually seen an increase in the number of aid agencies.
“After the cyclone we heard how difficult it was to get aid and aid agencies in,” he said.
“What actually happened was that Myanmar processed more applications for access in half the time they usually do.
“In fact they ended up with twice as many aid agencies in the country than ever before.”
Mr Ware’s research will document for the first time the experience of aid agencies in Myanmar and he hopes from this to develop a set of principles which will show how they can operate successfully.
“Public opinion towards Burma makes it complicated for agencies to operate, whether it is getting permission to work in the country or getting funding to do so,” he said.
“The significance of my research is in identifying strategies that will assist the aid agencies trying to help the 60-odd million people living in deep poverty on our doorstep.”
Mr Ware said one of the most surprising findings from the research is that the most successful ways agencies worked with the local population was by using participatory methods which involve villagers in key decision-making.
“It is a vexed question - how do you do participatory work in a country with an authoritarian regime without creating complications for the villagers,” he said.
“What my research has found is that the NGOs that are most effective in Myanmar do use a highly participative process, more so than in places like Cambodia and the Philippines, and it is definitely effective in Burma.”
Mr Ware will travel to Queensland to compete in the finals later this month of the Three Minute Thesis which is run by the University of Queensland.
Research students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis topic and its significance in a language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.