Myan­mar trans­port woes a $60 bil­lion mud­dle

The Myanmar Times - - News - NICK BAKER n.baker@mm­

FIX­ING Myan­mar’s trans­port woes may cost up to US$60 bil­lion but in­ac­tion could be far more ex­pen­sive, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

An anal­y­sis into Myan­mar’s trans­port land­scape by the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB) shows a coun­try ex­pe­ri­enc­ing both cri­sis and op­por­tu­nity.

“Trans­port Sec­tor Pol­icy Notes” opens bluntly, “Due to mas­sive un­der­in­vest­ment and ne­glect in re­cent his­tory, Myan­mar’s in­fra­struc­ture lags be­hind its As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions neigh­bours and hin­ders ac­cess to mar­kets and so­cial ser­vices.”

In­vest­ment in trans­port ini­tia­tives was just 1.0 to 1.5 per­cent of the GDP be­tween 2005 and 2015. Other coun­tries at a sim­i­lar level of de­vel­op­ment typ­i­cally in­vest 3 to 5pc of their GDPs on this area.

As a con­se­quence, 20 mil­lion peo­ple still lack ba­sic road ac­cess, 60pc of high­ways and most rail lines need “ur­gent main­te­nance or re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion” and river trans­port in­fra­struc­ture sim­ply “does not ex­ist”.

“Myan­mar’s trans­port sec­tor has suf­fered, not only be­cause needs have ex­ceeded re­sources, but also be­cause few in­vest­ments have been ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient,” it added.

Il­lus­trat­ing the mis­match, ADB noted that 60pc of the rail net­work serves fewer than 1000 pas­sen­gers a day, a “level too low to jus­tify even main­tain­ing rail ser­vices”.

The hu­man cost of this un­der­in­vest­ment was also noted – road fa­tal­i­ties are on track to dou­ble by 2020 if sub­stan­dard trans­port con­di­tions re­main.

Yan­gon serves as an epi­cen­tre for many of the trans­port prob­lems.

“[The city’s] trans­port sys­tem is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a quick break­down,” the re­port said, de­tail­ing how the num­ber of cars dou­bled from 160,000 in June 2011 to 320,000 by April 2015 af­ter import laws were re­laxed.

As com­muters are well aware, travel in Yan­gon has be­come two to three times slower over the past four years.

“If cur­rent trends con­tinue unchecked, Yan­gon’s ur­ban trans­port could be­come a ma­jor con­straint on eco­nomic growth,” the re­port said.

One sce­nario pre­dicted that car own­er­ship in Yan­gon could rise a fur­ther 10 times if ini­tia­tives such as im­proved pub­lic trans­port are not ur­gently pri­ori­tised.

Spe­cific so­lu­tions to Yan­gon’s traf­fic woes in­clude de­vel­op­ing high-ca­pac­ity bus rapid tran­sit lines, man­ag­ing car de­mand, in­vest­ing in traf­fic en­gi­neer­ing and re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing sec­tions of the Yan­gon Cir­cu­lar Rail­way.

Na­tional short-term rec­om­men­da­tions cen­tred around up­grad­ing high­ways, mod­ernising train lines, de­vel­op­ing trans­port in­fra­struc­ture on the Aye­yarwady River and launch­ing a Na­tional Ru­ral Road Ac­cess Pro­gram.

This came with pol­icy re­form sug­ges­tions such as re­struc­tur­ing and in some cases pri­vatis­ing cer­tain sta­te­owned en­ter­prises that deal with trans­port.

The re­port claimed that a suite of in­vest­ments and pol­icy re­forms that may cost $60 bil­lion over the next 15 years could “ul­ti­mately in­crease Myan­mar’s an­nual GDP by $40 bil­lion”.

ADB vice pres­i­dent for knowl­edge man­age­ment and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment Bam­bang Su­santono sounded a strong note of op­ti­mism in a pub­lic state­ment about the re­port.

“Myan­mar’s fu­ture is full of great po­ten­tial,” Mr Su­santono said. “The new gov­ern­ment is ready to ... pro­vide ac­cess to a modern and safe trans­port sys­tem for all.”

But it re­mains to be seen when – and if – that readi­ness will trans­late into a $60 bil­lion in­vest­ment.

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