Myanmar transport woes a $60 billion muddle
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.