COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on residents of informal settlements

Rapid assessment of informal settlements in Yangon: COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on residents of informal settlements


Livelihood security and Household income

81 per cent of the households in informal settlements have at least one member who lost their job in the past 30 days. The percentage of job loss (either the respondent or a member of their household) for women respondents was 87.7 per cent; 13.2 percentage points higher than for men at 74.5 per cent.

94 per cent of households in informal settlements report a fall in income over the past 30 days. 90 per cent of households reported having no alternate sources of income.

Household Debt

69 per cent of households have taken a loan in the past 30 days.

Households in informal settlements were already highly indebted before the outbreak of COVID-19. Average household indebtedness was MMK 555,000. 61 per cent of households taking out a new loan in the past 30 days took out a loan of value greater than MMK 100,000.

88 per cent of households used the loan taken out in the past 30 days to buy food.

Food Security

60 per cent of households in informal settlements reported receiving food assistance from the government.

However, food insecurity remains high. All households (100 per cent) in the sample reported that they are worried their stock of food would run out before having money to buy food.

Security of Tenure

53 per cent of households in informal settlements do not feel secure from eviction.

More women respondents reported eviction-related insecurity (57 per cent) compared to men (49 per cent).

Access to Healthcare

90 per cent of households live within 15 minutes of a health facility.

For 65 per cent of households, the nearest health facility is a public hospital.

Knowledge, Awareness and Practices (KAP) related to COVID-19

Households reported high awareness of three key actions for the prevention of COVID-19 – handwashing, use of masks and physical distancing.

However, 62 per cent of households in informal settlements do not have space for physical distancing; a third of all households do not have money to buy masks.

Majority of households rely on television and/or government notices and announcements for information on COVID-19.


Approximately 1 billion residents in informal settlements worldwide find themselves at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19. Conditions in informal settlements including deficient access to water, high density of settlements, and insecure ‘security of tenure’ with the allied risk of evictions place residents at greater risk of infection. Residents in informal settlements will also find it difficult to follow recommended measures including physical distancing, home-quarantine, self-isolation, and buying masks and sanitizers, among others. In this context, it is critical that Myanmar takes adequate steps to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in vulnerable informal settlements in its urban areas.

In 2016, UN-Habitat identified a total of 423 informal settlements in the city of Yangon. These settlements house an estimated 400,000 people in 72,900 households, approximately 8 per cent of the city’s total population. One single township Hlaingthayar hosts a third of all informal residents in the city, spread over 181 pockets of settlements. The townships of Shwepyitha, Dagon Seikkan, Insein, and Dala also house a significant proportion of the residents in informal settlements.

While it is urgent that Myanmar takes action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in informal settlements, these efforts are likely to be stymied by a lack of data on the unfolding situation on the ground. UN-Habitat’s rapid impact assessment study aims to fill this gap and presents a view of the extant conditions in informal settlements in Yangon. Our study examined 6 key indicators:

  • Livelihood security and household income
  • Household debt
  • Food security
  • Security of tenure
  • Access to healthcare
  • Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) related to COVID-19

Over five days in the last week of April 2020, we conducted phone interviews with 100 respondents living in informal settlements in Yangon. Our respondents were selected from three distinct townships with a high concentration of residents in informal settlements, Shwepyitha (28 per cent of the sample), Dala (28 per cent), and Hlaingthayar (44 per cent). In Shwepyitha and Dala, we selected an initial set of respondents from members of existing Community Development Committees (CDCs) already set up in informal settlements by UN-Habitat. Additional respondents from the same informal settlements were selected through snowball sampling, with initial respondents recommending acquaintances for the survey. In Hlaingthayar, we selected our respondents from two sources, one, we resampled respondents in informal settlements who were initially surveyed in a UN-Habitat study conducted in 2019, and two, we surveyed residents in informal settlements who worked with Bedar Social Development Group, a Civil Society Organization. Each phone interview lasted between 20 and 25 minutes and respondents were provided a mobile phone recharge worth MMK 1,000 in exchange for their time.

Overall, the results, presented below, paint an alarming portrait of the situation in informal settlements. The results point to households facing a multitude of pressing issues including worsening livelihood security, with job losses and fall in incomes reported by the large majority of households, rising household indebtedness, widespread food insecurity despite the reach of government-led measures, tenuous security of tenure, with a majority of households insecure about evictions, and an inability to follow preventive actions against COVID-19 despite awareness. On the other hand, a majority of households in informal settlements reported an ease of access to health facilities, high rates of awareness about key COVID-19 prevention actions, and access to information through channels including government notices and announcements and television.


Source: UN Habitat


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