Yangon: Challenges and solutions for Asia's future megacity

Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city with a population of 5 million. The city has been the country’s commercial and financial capital since colonial times and was its political capital until 2005, when the government moved to Nay Pyi Taw, a new city built in the center of the country. Yangon is an attractive and living city on the brink of tremendous growth. By 2040 – when its population is expected to reach 10 million – it will also be one of Asia's newest megacities.

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This expected growth will put significant strain on a city already struggling to address decrepit infrastructure and limited services. In a wide range of sectors, the problems the city face are significant. Only 42 percent of Yangon’s citizens have access to running water, less than 10 percent has sewage infrastructure and at least 40 percent of city residents survive day-to-day in informal dwellings. There is a need to solve problems such as frequent power cuts, gridlocked traffic and a shortage of housing and office space. There is also need to develop transportation infrastructure, sanitary waste disposal sites, electrical grids and different urban infrastructure, while at the same time considering the importance of conservation of heritage buildings and century-old colonial architecture. Tourism is likely to grow dramatically too and Yangon is already the gateway for tourists to Myanmar. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is one of the most important tourist attractions in the country and on every tourist’s must-see list. In short, an enormous amount of work is to be expected!

Yangon is one of Asia’s real test beds for smart city projects. It’s a fantastic opportunity for city planners, urbanism experts and ICT professionals to take part in this endeavor and deploy urban sustainable solutions in order to make Yangon a smart megacity. ICT can play a major role in contributing with innovative, sustainable solutions that will help solve many of the current problems as well as the ones that are expected to pop-up, due to the dramatic changes going on in the city.

Our report, ‘The potential economic impact of mobile communications in Myanmarr’, states: “overall impact generated by the mobile communication ecosystem is estimated to be 1.5-7.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the first three years of operations under a medium penetration (2012-2015). There will be approximately 66,000 full time employees (FTEs) and a further 24,000 FTEs are estimated to be generated in the wider economy”.

I believe that these figures would be much higher for Yangon when innovative ICT services that address all business and industrial domains are introduced.

The government has formed a committee of relevant agencies to develop a plan including the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) and the national government’s Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development (HSHD). One of the decisions is to create a new economic hub in Yangon and where the port facilities will be located.

A development plan is needed, leveraging from experiences in other Asian cities and embracing new economic models and new technologies. What if ‘Circular Economy’ was a fundamental part of this plan? We already know that ‘Circular Economy’ is included in future development plans of other port cities like Rotterdam in the Netherlands. See my previous post about the Circular Economy in Rotterdam.

Big data analytics, cloud-based services, and M2M-enabled services that intelligently provide real-time inputs will adequately provide smart ICT services. New business models between utility and technology providers can be developed to offer these integrated services.

Yangon is a particularly promising market for ICT service providers. These providers will be asked to create and develop the Yangon city services ecosystem. M-health services that will enable greater access to healthcare, and m-education that will benefit communities. Smart grid solutions too will enable smart power management, while real-time fleet and transportation information systems will prevent future congestion in the city and the port areas. And this is just the beginning.

As the commercial capital, most important port and tourist destination, and center for import and export manufacturing, Yangon is the driver of economic growth in Myanmar. I really believe that ICT can play a central role in helping the city to avoid becoming another sprawling, polluted and highly congested Asian megacity and instead it help it to grow into a greener, smarter and more livable metropolis.


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