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14 Mar, 2019

Asia Foundation releases results of first City Life Survey 2018 in Myanmar

Yangon, Asia Foundation media release, February 22, 2019 — According to a new survey released today by The Asia Foundation, urban residents in Myanmar’s cities report strong social cohesion and personal relationships. Trust is high, people are very charitable, and people say they are willing to make personal sacrifices to improve their communities.

Urban residents see infrastructure improvements moving their city in the right direction, but worry about safety, security, and economic uncertainty. The first of its kind in Myanmar, the 2018 City Life Survey (2018 CLS) is a multi-year, multi-city public perception survey designed to provide policymakers with reliable and objective information about the experience and well-being of Myanmar’s urban residents.

The country’s democratic transition, however nascent, has galvanized policymakers in government to understand the needs of the people so that they can better respond to them. As cities grow, government officials must tackle increased congestion, growing demands on public services, rising pollution, ensure economic opportunities for the majority, and work to maintain social cohesion and safety.

Two over-arching findings from the 2018 CLS indicate that where you live and who you are affect your experiences and your sense of well-being. In September and October 2018, 2,400 respondents of Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Mawlamyine, and Monywa were asked 135 questions on their personal, economic, physical, interpersonal well-being and their relationship with government. Read the summary report here.

“A key finding of the 2018 CLS is that Myanmar’s cities are blessed with people committed to improving their communities and the city around them,” said Matthew Arnold, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Myanmar. “During this period of political, economic, and social transition, our hope is that the 2018 CLS provides reliable information about economic development, but also explores other important elements of well-being such as health, relationships, and political agency, so that policymakers can shape urban governance and make cities better places to live and work.”

The 2018 CLS project is a partnership with the Yangon School of Political Science. The new survey builds upon The Asia Foundation’s experience conducting over 300 perception surveys in Asia, the Foundation’s 2017 CLS Pilot Initiative in Myanmar, and in-depth work with municipal authorities to support learning between Myanmar’s cities. For this reason, cities can be thought of as ‘idea laboratories’ – spectacular successes that can be learned from, as detailed throughout the new report.

The findings reveal insights that are consistent across all five cities surveyed:

1. Urban residents see infrastructure improvements moving their city in the right direction but they worry about safety and security. In all five cities, respondents are more likely to say things in their city are headed in the right direction than in the wrong direction. Improvements to road conditions and electricity supply are driving optimism among urban residents. Safety and security concerns are the overwhelming reason why some urban residents do not see their city going in the right direction.

2. Respondents inhabit close-knit, socially engaged communities, and enjoy strong personal relationships. Respondents tend to feel welcome in their neighborhoods and show high levels of satisfaction with personal relationships. Trust levels are relatively high and social engagement, including volunteering and donating, are
some of the highest in the world.

3. People feel mostly powerless to influence government decisions that affect their lives. Most do not feel safe to express political opinions publicly; just 28% say that their state/region representative represents their interests; and nearly 70% say that they are unable to have any influence at all over decisions made by their municipal authority.

4. Economic uncertainty is widespread (although it differs by income group). Fewer than 40% of respondents expect their financial situation to improve in the next five years and more than a third say that they are unable to afford an unexpected medical bill of MMK 200,000 (approx. USD 130). Wealth inequality is also perceived to be a problem, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying so, but most are optimistic that hard work can result in improvements in their lives.

5. Self-reported personal well-being is high. Most people have high levels of life satisfaction, happiness and health, and most feel that their life is worthwhile. An incredible 27% of people report being completely happy (10 out of 10).

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, TAF work across the region addresses five overarching goals—strengthen governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, and promote regional cooperation.

Read more about the Foundation’s work.