Burma is entering the era of the Asian world economy. REUTERS

The World Bank said it will resume making loans to Myanmar in the wake of political and economic reforms the Southeast Asian nation has undertaken over the past year under a nominally civilian government.

Initially, the Bank approved an $80-million grant – the first such pledge in 25 years – and promised continued lending.

In a statement, the Bank said it will enact programs over the next 18 months with a particular focus on alleviating rural poverty through regulatory reforms, development of financial transparency and the formation of a private sector.

The Bank will specifically focus on infrastructure projects and rural health care initiatives.

“I am heartened by the reforms that have been taking place in Myanmar, and encourage the government to continue to push forward with their efforts,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President.

Among other measures, Myanmar has freed hundreds of political prisoners and conducted a free election that brought pro-democracy activist Auu Sang Suu Kyi into parliament.

“We hope to move ahead as part of a united global community to deliver solutions to address people’s most urgent development needs, especially in areas such as health, education, and infrastructure, and we’ll also work to build up the private sector so jobs can be created,” Kim added.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the second-poorest nation in Asia, having been isolated from the outside world for half-century, but is believed to possess significant untapped natural resources.

Pamela Cox, World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Vice President, warned such dramatic changes will take time, “but we are committed to working with all our partners to ensure that poor people start to feel the benefits of reforms quickly, especially through better services from the government.”

Cox told reporters that another $165 million will be available to Burma after the country clears its overdue debt to the bank.