Poverty and Food Insecurity during COVID-19: Telephone Survey Evidence from Mothers in Rural and Urban Myanmar

28 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2020

See all articles by Derek Headey

Derek Headey

CGIAR - Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division

Sophie Goudet

Independent

Isabel Lambrecht

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Than Zaw Oo

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Elisa Maria Maffioli

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Public Health

Russell Toth

School of Economics, University of Sydney

Date Written: October 7, 2020

Abstract

Myanmar had one of the lowest confirmed COVID-19 caseloads in the world in mid-2020 and was one of the few developing countries not projected to go into economic recession. However, macroeconomic projections are likely to be a poor guide to individual and household welfare in a fast-moving crisis that has involved disruption to an unusually wide range of sectors and livelihoods. To explore the impacts of COVID-19 disruptions on household poverty and coping strategies, as well as maternal food insecurity experiences, this study used a telephone survey conducted in June and July 2020 covering 2,017 mothers of nutritionally vulnerable young children in urban Yangon and rural villages of Myanmar’s Dry Zone.

Stratifying results by location, livelihoods, and asset-levels, and using retrospective questions on pre-COVID-19 incomes and various COVID-19 impacts, we find that the vast majority of households have been adversely affected from loss of income and employment. Over three-quarters cite income/job losses as the main impact of COVID-19 – median incomes declined by one third and $1.90/day income-based poverty rose by around 27 percentage points between January and June 2020. Falling into poverty was most strongly associated with loss of employment (including migrant employment), but also with recent childbirth. The poor commonly coped with income losses through taking loans/credit, while better-off households drew down on savings and reduced non-food expenditures. Self-reported food insecurity experiences were much more common in the urban sample than in the rural sample, even though income-based and asset-based poverty were more prevalent in rural areas. In urban areas, around one quarter of respondents were worried about food quantities and quality, and around 10 percent stated that there were times when they had run out of food or gone hungry. Respondents who stated that their household had lost income or experienced food supply problems due to COVID-19 were more likely to report a variety of different food insecurity experiences.

These results raise the concern that the welfare impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are much more serious and widespread than macroeconomic projections would suggest. Loss of employment and casual labor are major drivers of increasing poverty. Consequently, economic recovery strategies must emphasize job creation to revitalize damaged livelihoods. However, a strengthened social protection strategy should also be a critical component of economic recovery to prevent adversely affected households from falling into poverty traps and to avert the worst forms of food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly among households with pregnant women and young children. The recent second wave of COVID-19 infections in Myanmar from mid-August onwards makes the expansion of social protection even more imperative.

Keywords: Myanmar, Burma, Southeast Asia, Asia, Coronavirus, coronavirus disease, Coronavirinae, COVID-19, poverty, food security, nutrition, welfare, health, households, livelihoods, surveys, social impact, economic impact

Suggested Citation

Headey, Derek and Goudet, Sophie and Lambrecht, Isabel and Oo, Than Zaw and Maffioli, Elisa Maria and Toth, Russell Dean, Poverty and Food Insecurity during COVID-19: Telephone Survey Evidence from Mothers in Rural and Urban Myanmar (October 7, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3706963 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3706963

Derek Headey (Contact Author)

CGIAR - Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division ( email )

Washington, DC 20005
United States

Sophie Goudet

Independent

Isabel Lambrecht

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ( email )

1201 Eye St, NW,
Washington, DC 20005
United States
+1 202-862-5600 (Phone)
+1 202-467-4439 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.ifpri.org/

Than Zaw Oo

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ( email )

2033 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
United States

Elisa Maria Maffioli

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Public Health

1415 Washington Heights
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029
United States

Russell Dean Toth

School of Economics, University of Sydney ( email )

Rm 506 Social Sciences Building A02
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006 2008
Australia
+61 2 9351 8542 (Phone)
+61 2 9351 4341 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/economics/staff/academic/russell_toth.shtml

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