Women selling hair 'to restore livelihoods'

Jan 7, 2010 (DVB), Trade in women's hair in Burma has boomed in the last five years as people look for a new way to make ends meet, particularly in the wake of the devastation wrought by cyclone Nargis.

One healthy head of women's hair could sell for up to $US35, a bonanza in a country where the average wage is less than $US20 per month, a Burmese hair trader told Reuters.

The boom has been fuelled by growing demand for wigs in China and South Korea, and the hair market has blossomed into a lucrative business for some Burmese traders, buoyed by rising prices.

One woman, Yu Yu, said that she was able to pay for her father's medical treatment and could now send her brother to school after selling her hair.

"At first, I just felt so sad about losing my hair. But later, I was really happy that I was able to save my father’s life and solve my family’s extreme financial problems," she said.

Other traders say that the market grew in the wake of cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which struck the Irrawaddy delta, killing 140,000 and leaving 2.4 million homeless.

Economic recovery has been slow, with thousands of hectares of farmland still polluted by the salt water and adequate housing still denied to nearly 800,000 cyclone victims.

Wild financial mismanagement since the military took power in 1962 has transformed Burma from one of Southeast Asia's more prosperous countries into one of the world's poorest states, with an inflation rate of around 30 percent.

Although the junta spends lucratively on infrastructural development, particularly hydropower and gas projects, the vast majority of the product is sold abroad, leaving nearly one-third of Burma's population below the poverty line.

The country however has a substantial informal sector that provides a crutch for the majority of the population, and which has been comparatively unharmed by the impact that decades of western sanctions have had on the official economy.

Between two and three million Burmese migrants are thought to be working in Thailand, while many more have fled low employment prospects in the country to find work in Malaysia, Singapore and southern China.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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