By Robin Gomes
Japan is continuing to support the United Nations efforts in fighting hunger in Myanmar. More than 3 months of nationwide protests and strikes against the February 1 military coup have combined with poverty and the Covid-19 restrictions to bear down heavily on the people of the impoverished nation.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday welcomed a $4 million contribution from the government of Japan to support families in urban townships struggling to meet their basic food needs. The contribution will help WFP provide assistance to some 600,000 people in Yangon Region. Food rations will be delivered directly into the hands of vulnerable families as part of WFP’s new operation for 2 million people in the poorest townships of Myanmar’s urban areas. The distribution started on Thursday in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar township.
“The Government of Japan supports WFP’s strenuous efforts in tackling hunger in Myanmar. Thanks to WFP’s initiative, this assistance from the people of Japan will directly reach the most vulnerable population in the urban and peri-urban poor areas. The Government and people of Japan will continue standing with the people of Myanmar,” said Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar, Maruyama Ichiro, said.
WFP estimates that up to 3.4 million more people, particularly those in urban areas, will face hunger within the next six months due to the triple impact of pre-existing poverty, Covid-19 and the ongoing political crisis.
Japan compassion for Myanmar's people
WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson expressed his gratitude to the people and Government of Japan, who, he said, have been “a steadfast partner for WFP over the years”. “At this critical time, they once again stepped forward, extending compassion and support to the people of Myanmar. Generous contributions like this are integral in helping us prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis from unfolding,” Anderson said.
Earlier this year, Japan provided $4.7 million – $7.7 million in January, and $3 million in March, towards WFP’s ongoing food and nutrition support for people displaced by conflict in Chin, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.
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.
Earlier in mid-March, the WFP said that the protests had 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,” Anderson warned. “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,” he said.
According to WFP, prior to the pandemic, six out of 10 households in Myanmar 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 the nation reported they had lost close to 50% of their income during the pandemic. Last month, WFP warned that in the coming months, the number of people it assists will nearly triple – from 1.3 million to 3.3 million. To meet this need, it urgently needs $106 million.
Economy risks collapsing
Last week, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned that Myanmar’s economy risked collapsing under a scale of impoverishment unseen in the country since 2005. A new report it released showed that in the 12 years between 2005 and 2017, the country had managed to nearly halve the number of people living in poverty. However, the challenges of the past 12 months have put all of these hard-won development gains at risk. Without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation, the UNDP warned.
In the aftermath of the military coup, the Japanese government stated it would refrain from carrying out new non-humanitarian Official Development Aid (ODA) infrastructure projects by Myanmar government ministries and other assistance involving military-controlled entities. However, it has not been clear regarding ongoing ODA projects.