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One-third of Myanmar population in need of aid, says UN

Those in need of assistance ballooned to 18 million from 1 million before the coup.

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar has soared to more than 18 million, or one-third of the population, from just over 1 million prior to the military coup, the United Nations announced this week, as the junta entered its fourth year in power.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or UNOCHA, said in a statement marking the third anniversary of the Feb. 1, 2021, takeover that widespread conflict has left millions displaced, facing food insecurity and malnutrition, unable to access health care and education, and at risk of severe mental health issues and physical harm.

The situation in Myanmar prompted a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, at which council members called for the immediate provision of humanitarian assistance to the country.

“Three years in, more than 18 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance,” British Ambassador to the U.N. Barbara Woodward said at a press conference after the meeting. “We reiterate the call for unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, including women, children, and members of ethnic and other minority populations.”

The food security situation in Myanmar has gotten so bad that people in Chin state’s Mindat township told RFA they can no longer afford to buy the once-plentiful staple of rice.

One resident of the township who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, said most people can only afford millet for breakfast and boiled yams for dinner.

“I doubt there are 10 households in the township that can eat rice,” said the woman, who is pregnant. “Only those who can afford it are able to stave off their childrens’ hunger. I don’t even want to talk about nutrition.”

Armed conflict in the region has severed transportation routes, causing the prices of commodities to rise and cutting off access to much needed crop markets, stretching what little income residents have, she said.

‘Waiting for the army to come and kill us’

But fighting between the military and anti-junta forces is ongoing in nearly every part of the country three years into the coup, UNOCHA said in its statement, noting that clashes in western Rakhine state have ramped up in intensity in recent months, while a fragile ceasefire in northern Shan state is at risk of imminent collapse.

Amid the ceasefire in Shan state, the military has focused its efforts on clearance operations in Sagaing region, forcing residents to flee amid the threat of death, arrest, and arson.

A resident of Sagaing’s Ye-U township said those who haven’t fled are hunkering down in fear, with little to sustain them.

“Farmers now don’t dare to store [surplus] rice … for themselves, because they have lost everything in [junta] arson attacks,” said the resident, adding that “even rice farmers have to buy rice to eat.”

Residents of Kyaukkyi township, who are fleeing due to junta’s artillery fires, are seen on June 7, 2023. (Citizen journalist)

“We receive food provided as humanitarian aid, but it is just a small amount, since it has to pass many steps before we get it,” he said. “People are simply waiting for the time when the army will come and kill us by eating the humanitarian food provided by the world. Life is so meaningless.”

Meanwhile, although Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, has stepped in to run schools for the displaced, children are unable to study regularly due to frequent military raids and airstrikes, residents said.

The health care situation in the country is far worse, they said, as the displaced lack access to basic medical treatment for common illnesses and have difficulty buying medicine.

UNOCHA said that Myanmar’s health sector is in “crisis,” as millions of people lack safe shelter or access to drinking water. A faltering economy has made families more financially distressed, while interruptions to agriculture and rapid inflation have made it harder for people to get food, leading to climbing malnutrition, it added.

A resident of the commercial capital Yangon told RFA that three years after the coup, the lives of ordinary citizens are far worse than before.

“Regular people are starving more and more, and everyone is in deep trouble – whole families of the poor have to beg for food and money,” he said. “[The junta has] no clue. I feel deep pity for the people. Everyone, including our elders, are begging at bus stops and junctions because there are no jobs to be had.”

Calls by RFA to junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun seeking comment on the humanitarian aid situation in Myanmar went unanswered Thursday.

Aid cooperation

On Feb. 6, Than Swe, the junta’s foreign minister, met with Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, head of the UNOCHA office in Myanmar, to discuss the possibility of providing humanitarian assistance to people in need and cooperation between the junta and United Nations agencies, according to a statement by the military regime.

The same day, the minister met with Myanmar representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to discuss issues of cooperation.

The NUG’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management said in an online session of parliament on Feb. 2 that it had provided 10.5 billion kyats (about US$5 million) in humanitarian aid to the people in the three years since the coup.

The ministry said that its aid had gone to victims of arson, the displaced, family members of civilians killed in armed conflict, disaster victims, state employees who left their jobs and joined the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, and political prisoners.

The aid was largely funded through civilian donations, said Ngai Tam Maung, deputy minister of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, adding that the ministry is working to increase international support.

“For international humanitarian assistance, we are making efforts to continue cooperation with donor countries, neighboring countries and international humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” or ASEAN, he said. “We will have to work harder to get international aid in 2024.”

According to UNOCHA’s report, humanitarian organizations have requested funds of US$994 million in order to provide urgent assistance in Myanmar in 2024. It said that while the number of people in need of assistance has increased to 18 million, funding difficulties have made it impossible to provide adequate assistance.

The UN humanitarian office has warned that in order to cope with these challenges, more international attention and support is needed for Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Burmese.

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