By Robin Gomes
More than 76,000 children in Myanmar have been forced to flee their homes since the February 1 military coup, which besides triggering nationwide protests and strikes has led to clashes with armed civil defence forces and also re-ignited the military’s old conflict with ethnic militias. The military’s brutal crackdown on protesters and dissidents has killed at least 1,150 people according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The situation has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Safety of the forest
Save the Children, a rights group that helps to improve children’s lives, expressed its concern on Monday, citing recent United Nations data. It said most of the displaced children have sought the safety of the jungles, with nothing but tarpaulins held up with bamboo sticks to protect them from the torrential monsoon rains. Many families do not have adequate food supplies and are sharing just one meal between them per day. Pregnant mothers are helpless about their babies’ safety and health under harsh conditions.
Kayah state the worst tragedy
The children’s rights group pointed out that since the coup, 206,000 people have been displaced across the country, 37 per cent of them children. In the southeastern state of Kayah, around 22,000 people fled their homes in September alone. More than 79,000 people – including around 29,000 children – are currently displaced in the state. One town, Demoso, has been left completely empty after its entire population fled violent clashes there last month.
Tom Andrews, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar had warned in June that Kayah State could see “mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure”. With access to food and life-saving services blocked, displaced families were reported to have been living on only rice broth.
In many parts of the country aid agencies have been unable to reach families in need due to ongoing conflict and restrictions on the delivery of aid. Many displaced families are relying on donations from local people for food and essentials. Some 60% of Kayah families surveyed by Save the Children in April said they relied on farming as their primary source of food, but had been uprooted from their farms by the conflict.
6.2 million children could go hungry
Earlier this year, the UN’s World Food Programme estimated that the number of children in the country going hungry could more than double to 6.2 million in the next six months, up from 2.8 million prior to February.
“While the world’s attention has moved on, a hunger crisis is unfolding in Myanmar,” Save the Children said. Displaced families, it said, “are living on next to nothing, sharing just one meal a day between six or seven people”. While commending the resilience of Myanmar’s children, it warned that they are already going hungry, and very soon they will start to succumb to disease and malnutrition.
Pope Francis on Sunday also drew attention to the tragic situation of Myanmar and appealed for peace and an end to pain and death.
The worst level of poverty in 20 years
Last week, Andrew Kirkwood, UN Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar warned that people in Myanmar are living in ``a severe crisis,'' with a level of poverty not seen for at least 20 years. The number of people in the country needing aid has tripled to 3 million since the military takeover. A total of 20 million, or nearly half the population, are living in poverty, he said in a briefing on Thursday from Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
The UN's top humanitarian official in Myanmar said explained that the crisis is the result of increasing communal strife, the military ouster of the country's democratically elected government and the coronavirus pandemic, which had ``a devastating third wave'' of infections this summer.
Kirkwood cited ``significant operational challenges'' including roadblocks and travel in the country, pandemic restrictions, and overall insecurity, that are preventing humanitarian workers and supplies from reaching the needy. He said the UN was also facing a serious underfunding of its appeal for the country.