MYANMAR: Food concerns rise for Kachin IDPs

Posted by Admin Thursday, August 25, 2011
Photo: Greg Constantine/WFP
Aid workers say a proper assessment is needed
BANGKOK, 19 August 2011 (IRIN) - Aid workers in Myanmar's northern Kachin State have expressed concern over prospects for food security after recent fighting between government forces and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

"Even if the fighting stops, we will face a food crisis for one or two years," Mai Ja, a spokeswoman for the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT), told IRIN.

Since fighting resumed two months ago after a breakdown in a 17-year ceasefire in June - much of it due to a proposed government plan to incorporate Myanmar's numerous armed ethnic groups into a single border guard force - thousands of people have fled to urban areas such as Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, and Waimaw, as well as other areas under the control of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA.

In addition, some people have crossed the border into China.

Up to 25,000 people are now believed to have been displaced, including 15,000 along the 2,185km Burmese-Chinese border, now living in makeshift camps set up by local aid groups.

Another 10,000 people are believed to be in Myitkyina, Waimaw, Moe Mauk and Bamaw townships.

Thousands of farmers abandoned their crops and livestock at a critical time of year, say aid groups. Farmers in Kachin's highlands traditionally grow their paddy, a staple part of the Burmese diet, in June, while farmers in the lower areas grow theirs in July and August.

And while a small number of farmers have remained behind to work their fields, the vast majority have not.

In Ban Sau Yang, a village on the road between Myitkyina and Bamaw, just seven of 170 families have stayed behind, only to struggle to hire additional labour to assist them.

"If they cannot harvest their farms and paddy fields this season, how will they cover their family's food needs next year?" Mai Ja asked.

Aid groups now worry that lack of local paddy production will have a serious impact on all of Kachin State, as people from areas such as Myitkyina, Waimaw and Laiza rely on the rice produced in the conflict-affected areas.

"People from the villages which are close to Myanmar forces will suffer seriously," said La Rip, coordinator of Laiza-based Kachin Relief Action Network for IDP [internally displaced person] and Refugee (RANIR), while residents along the road between Myitkyina and Bamaw will suffer the most.

Food assistance

At present, the displaced are receiving help from local aid groups and those in the community, but there are doubts over how long that can continue.

"We won't be able to support [this] for the long run," La Rip said, reiterating a call for international assistance.

"WFP [the UN World Food Programme] on Thursday [18 August] started distribution to the displaced in Kachin, providing rice rations to about 3,100 displaced people in Myitkyina and [the] neighbouring town, Waimaw," Marcus Prior, regional spokesman for WFP, said on 19 August.

"Rice supplies for an additional 3,000 displaced people around Bamaw are planned for distribution in the coming days and we are hopeful that these distributions to the displaced will be significantly expanded in the weeks ahead."


Theme (s): Conflict, Food Security, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


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