By Robin Gomes
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the elected government and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup have paralyzed parts of the economy.
Supply chains and markets hit
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday that this has seriously impacted the supply chains and markets, resulting in a steep rise in food and fuel prices. “These initial signs are troubling, especially for the most vulnerable people who were already living meal-to-meal,” warned WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson. “Coming on top of the Covid-19 pandemic, if these price trends continue, they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.”
“These initial signs are troubling, especially for the most vulnerable people who were already living meal-to-meal,” warned WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson. “Coming on top of the Covid-19 pandemic, if these price trends continue, they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.”
The UN’s food agency noted that the retail price of palm oil had risen 20% since the start of February around the main city, Yangon, while rice prices there and in Mandalay had gone up 4% in the past three weeks alone. In a few townships in the northernmost Kachin state, the price of rice had increased by up to 35%. Across the nation, the cost of fuel has risen 15% since 1 February, while in northern Rakhine, the price of petrol has increased by 33%, and the average retail price of cooking oil surged by 27 percent from January to February.
Poor becoming poorer
"These rising food and fuel prices are compounded by the near paralysis of the banking sector, slowdowns in remittances, and widespread limits on cash availability," Anderson pointed out. He noted that already before the current political crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic had resulted in the closure of many factories and many of the poorest had lost their jobs due to lockdowns in their neighbourhoods. In addition, there had been “declining remittances from abroad.” “If the situation protracts, I think, increasingly, the economic side of this crisis is going to be a very serious one,” he said.
According to WFP, prior to the pandemic, six out of 10 households could not afford a nutritious diet. Poverty rose further as a result of Covid-19, and by the second half of last year, four out of five households across Myanmar reported they had lost close to 50% of their income during the pandemic.
"At WFP we know all too well how hunger can quickly follow when peace and dialogue are sidelined," Anderson warned.
Earlier at the end of February, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had also expressed concern that the current crisis was hitting the operations of humanitarian agencies in Myanmar. The shutting down of businesses and services, including banks, was affecting payments and cash withdrawal systems. In some areas, the price of essential commodities, such as food, construction materials and fuel, has reportedly increased.
Apart from the current crisis, OCHA pointed out, about 1 million people, hit by conflict and natural disasters, are in need of support and protection including more than 350,000 internally displaced people. Of these, some 945,000 have been targeted for assistance through 2021.
UN Special Envoy
Meanwhile, the UN Special Envoy on Myanmar has strongly condemned the “continuing bloodshed” by Myanmar’s security forces after more than 30 protesters were killed over the weekend. In a statement, Christine Schraner Burgener denounced the ‘ongoing brutality’ with killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners. According to reports, violence continued across Myanmar over the weekend, with 38 people killed on Sunday alone, one of the bloodiest days of the crisis.