Many of you may be wondering how our friends in Myanmar are getting on during the global COVID-19 pandemic. We have been working closely with the ZMF team over the last couple of months to navigate the situation.
In the week of 23 March (while New Zealand was preparing to enter lockdown), ZMF made the decision to close its office to the public, suspending repayments for its 1,400 active loan clients and ceasing any new loan disbursements for the time being. To support its clients the decision was also made to not to charge interest on loans to business unable to continue, while repayments are suspended. At the time of writing, the ZMF office remains closed to clients while the extent of infection in the region is uncertain. In the meantime, ADC has helped ZMF compile some useful educational materials to be sent to clients with tips for staying safe and avoiding virus spread where possible.
While shocks (environmental, political and economic) are nothing new in Myanmar, COVID-19 and its aftermath will bring unique challenges for those living in poverty.
Like most countries, Myanmar's government has now imposed stringent restrictions on movement and gatherings. Close living conditions for most mean that physical distancing is difficult to enforce, making it difficult to protect the elderly and vulnerable. Limited supply of equipment mean that very little virus testing is available in the Kalaymyo area and rumours about prison-like conditions in a local quarantine centre mean that those with symptoms are reluctant to come forward in any event. Supply chains for food and other essentials have been disrupted and markets closed, resulting in supply shortages.
The effects (direct and indirect) of COVID-19 in Myanmar will be felt most keenly by those living in poverty and, disproportionately, by poor women. Like elsewhere, the country is likely to experience a severe recession and the flow of foreign investment and tourism slows to a trickle. Wage subsidies and other fiscal stimulus measures are practically non-existent. Most people have no savings to fall back on. For those unable to operate their family business - tea shop owners, rickshaw transporters and market stallholders alike - these are hugely difficult times.
The ZMF bank is well-placed to help bounce back once Kalaymyo opens up once again. Affordable, small-scale business capital will be precisely what many in the community need to get back on their feet and regain a regular income. A loan of as little as $200 can be all it takes to get a thriving small business up and running. Your ongoing support of ADC makes it possible for us to continue investing in these people, at a time when it is most needed.
A special thank you to our regular donors, the lifeblood of ADC, without whose generosity our work with the ZMF bank would not be possible.
Andrew Colgan & Geoff Cooper