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Australia could double or even triple its aid to poverty stricken Myanmar (Burma) without compromising its political ideals says the inaugural winner of Deakin University’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT), Anthony Ware.
A PhD candidate in the School of Political and International Studies, Anthony impressed the 3MT judges with both his presentation style and the powerful narrative in his research.
He told the audience at the final of Deakin’s 3MT competition on August 27th that 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 per cent,” he said.
“Definitely 90 per cent of births are unattended in village houses, while 75 per cent 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.”
Anthony 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.”
Anthony 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.”
Anthony’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 that 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.”
Anthony said one of the most surprising findings from the research is that the most successful ways agencies worked with the local population were by using participatory methods that 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.”
As the inaugural winner of Deakin’s 3MT competition, Anthony will now travel to Queensland later this month to compete against researchers from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in the final of the Three Minute Thesis that was initiated by 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.
The other Deakin finalists on August 27th were:
Deakin University Director of Research Training, Professor Roger Horn commended all the finalists.
“We started out with more than 60 entrants and by the time we got to the finalists we knew we had some very fine contenders,” Professor Horn said.
“I want to congratulate everyone involved, and particularly Anthony Ware, and wish him all the best in the final.”