In September 1950, the first U.S.-Burma Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed. For the next decade, the U. S. Government worked closely with the Government of Burma to provide a range of equipment, supplies, training, and technical services through grants, loans, and sales of agricultural commodities. The Government of Burma chose projects and invested its own funds. Then, following a military coup in 1962, USAID’s Mission in Burma closed.
However, the United States Government and Government of Burma continued to work together in the years to come. After the coup, funding for ongoing USAID projects continued until they were completed. In June 1966, the United States Government and Government of Burma signed a local currency loan and grant agreement for the construction of schools and hospitals.
In 1978, the Government of Burma requested resumption of the joint development assistance relationship, and the United States agreed, initiating new projects in agriculture and health. USAID focused on the production of maize and oilseed, and the processing and distribution of edible oil. USAID also worked on improving primary health care and child survival.
After the military coup government's 1988 crackdown on Burma's democratic opposition, USAID once again halted all economic assistance to Burma in 1989. While we continued to provide emergency humanitarian assistance, all USAID American staff and contractors were eventually evacuated. USAID did not have a presence again in Burma for the next 10 years.
Beginning in 1998, USAID resumed targeted health programs in Burma. Through the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), USAID supported infectious disease programs to prevent malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and avian influenza. More recently, the Mission also supported ongoing activities focused on improving livelihoods like agriculture and fisheries, water and sanitation, health and shelter.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis caused devastating damage throughout the country. In response, the U.S. Government provided assistance to affected communities and households through USAID and the Department of Defense, including immediate relief items and humanitarian assistance to victims through UN agencies and international NGOs. Working with World Food Program and international NGO partners, USAID also provided food assistance like edible oil and rice, and the Department of Defense provided non-food relief items and supported a critical air bridge for U.S. and other international assistance donations in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone.
Today, Burma is in the process of a historic transition, moving from military, authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy; negotiating ceasefires after a decades-long civil war between the government and armed non-state groups that created a protracted humanitarian crisis; and shifting to a market-oriented economy. Each of these transitions presents opportunities and challenges to achieving sustainable development and inclusive growth for Burma.
Since the Mission reopened in 2012, USAID programming has been devoted to setting the stage for the democratic and economic transition of Burma following nearly 60 years of military rule. In the lead-up to the 2015 elections, USAID’s central focus was on supporting the preparation for and execution of elections that would represent a significant step toward restoration of democratic rule. USAID also supported key economic policy reforms, related to specific sectoral priorities – intended to establish working relationships in various sectors. Other USAID focus areas included supporting an evolving peace process between the government and ethnic minority groups; working with civil society and media to expand their role and advocacy; extending health services to address specific diseases of international concern; and providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations within and outside of Burma.
The resurgence of conflict and continued dominance of anti-democratic forces in 2016 and an exodus of refugees from Rakhine State since August 2017 has hesitated changes in the U.S. assistance strategy, based on a clearer recognition that Burma remains in the early stages of multiple transitions: a democratic transition from autocratic, military rule to democratic governance; a transition from civil conflict to peace and national reconciliation; an economic transition from a closed economy that benefits few, to a more open market-based economy creating broad-based, inclusive growth; and a governance transition from neglect of social and health services, particularly in minority areas of the country, to increased spending on development and expansion of universal health access. The U.S. government is committed to supporting the people of Myanmar as they work toward a lasting peace with an increasingly open and tolerant society.