By Robin Gomes
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday warned that it may not have enough funds to feed millions of Myanmar’s people who are facing hunger.
A massive surge in Covid-19 infections currently ravaging the country is exacerbating hunger, as families struggle amid job losses, rising food and fuel prices, political unrest, violence and displacement.
In a statement, the UN’s food assistance agency said it is facing a shortfall of over 70 per cent for the coming 6 months. In April, it estimated that the number of people facing hunger could more than double to 6.2 million in the next six months, up from 2.8 million prior to February. Subsequent monitoring surveys carried out by WFP have shown that since February, more and more families are being pushed to the edge, struggling to put even the most basic food on the table.
“We have seen hunger spreading further and deeper in Myanmar,” WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson said in the statement. “Nearly 90 percent of households living in slum-like settlements around Yangon say they have to borrow money to buy food; incomes have been badly affected for many.”
However, with US$86 million more required over the next 6 months, he is uncertain how far their operations can go.
The urban hungry and the displaced
The world’s largest humanitarian organization had launched a new urban food response, targeting 2 million people in Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar’s two biggest cities. The majority of people to receive assistance are mothers, children, people with disabilities and the elderly. To date, 650,000 people have been assisted in urban areas.
The February 1 coup by the military that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, has led to nationwide protests and a civil disobedience movement that are having widespread socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian repercussions on the nation’s some 54 million people.
The military junta’s hardline stand has re-ignited its old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations, while several independent civil resistance groups have armed themselves against the army’s atrocities. More than 220,000 people who have fled violence since February are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
WFP has reached 17,500 newly-displaced people and is working to assist more in August. In total, 1.25 million people in Myanmar have received WFP food, cash and nutrition assistance in 2021 across urban and rural areas.
Anderson explained that “the people of Myanmar are facing their most difficult moment in living memory”. “It is critically important for us to be able to access to all those in need and receive the funding to provide them with humanitarian assistance.”
“Now more than ever, the people of Myanmar need our support. We are deeply grateful for the backing of the international community – the people of Myanmar will never forget your generosity and solidarity,” Anderson added.
The UN’s Acting Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, said last week that an increase in the price of basic commodities due to the chaotic political crisis, has led to “a reduction of the nutrition value of the food basket that people usually take as they substitute their regular food with cheaper, more readily available items”.
A joint report by WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on July 30 estimated that up to 3.4 million additional people could be at risk of food insecurity due to the economic slowdown between April and September. At the peak of Covid-19 in mid-2020, the scale of food insecure people was estimated at about 2.8 million. (Source: WFP, UN)