YANGON, Burma (AP) — The World Bank on Sunday pledged $2 billion in loans, grants and investments to help improve Burma’s ailing energy sector and deliver universal health care.
The announcement was made by Jim Yong Kim, the bank’s president, during his first visit to the former military-ruled nation. He said the goal was to help lift people out of poverty.
“Expanding access to electricity in a country like Burma can help transform a society — children will be able to study at night, shops will stay open, and health clinics will have lights and energy to power life-saving technology,” he said.
The money will also be used to help achieve universal health care in the country of 60 million, the bank said, noting that one in four people do not have access to quality care.
Burma, which began its transition to democracy in 2010, stopped payments on its old World Bank loans in 1987, forcing it to shut its offices in Yangon and making the country ineligible for new development lending.
Burma’s debts were cleared last year, with help from Japan, and funds to fix the impoverished country’s dilapidated infrastructure once again started to flow.
Since taking control of a nominally civilian government in 2011, President Thein Sein has instituted political and economic reforms, resulting in the lifting of international sanctions. But some democracy activists say the rewards have been too much, too fast, allowing some abuses to continue, like repression of ethnic minorities.
The bank said that roughly three-quarters of the $2 billion package will come in the form of concessional interest-free loans. The rest will come from the bank’s private sector arm.
Half the money will go toward expanding electricity generation, transmission and distribution. Around $200 million will go to health, with focus on improving access to quality care for women and children, removing financing barriers for poorest and expanding the skills of health workers, the bank said.