Myanmar's Cycle Of Debt

An informal - and unregulated - lending market runs amok in Myanmar

Myanmar's Cycle Of Debt Myanmar’s rural poor often have to resort to taking out loans to survive, but hefty interest rates often trap them into paying many times the original amount. Often they are never able to repay the debt.
“I took out a new loan of $220, because our house collapsed during a recent storm”, says twenty-year-old mother Lone Lone. “But the interest rate is 30%. So now we owe $66 interest every month.” Over 80% of her community scrape by on borrowed money, only a short-term solution as their debt quickly builds. Often families are forced to send their children to work to keep up with payments. Far from being callous predators, many of the moneylenders believe they are doing good. “I am helping them”, says Daw Htay. “I only ask for a little interest, and they can pay me back whenever they can.” Her interest rates are ‘only’ 20 or 30%, lower than many. However, one group of women have escaped spiralling debt via a collective savings scheme, where all pay into a communal account and are free to withdraw loans for a low interest rate. “It can only succeed if all the members are united”, says member Khine Yaw Maw, now heading a successful mallet-making enterprise. She is fortunate. For Lone Lone and many others, the combination of profitable high-interest lending and the desperation of the needy means that the cycle of debt is likely to persist indefinitely.

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