UN agency warns of growing threat of hunger in Myanmar

The United Nations World Food Program country director for Myanmar has warned that civil unrest and growing economic paralysis risk pushing people in one of Asia’s poorest countries into hunger.

Stephen Anderson said that while the Southeast Asian country was an exporter of rice, the prices of staple foods, fuel and fertilizers were starting to rise because nationwide strikes and unrest hit. supply chains, markets and banking system.

“It is probably still too early to understand the full impact of the current political crisis on household food security,” Anderson told the Financial Times. “But WFP, as an organization, is increasingly concerned that if this situation continues – if there is a prolonged period of civil unrest – it risks driving many poor families into hunger.” . ”

His warning of growing food insecurity comes amid the regime’s relentless violence against peaceful protesters opposing the military junta of Min Aung Hlaing, who reversed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government last month. Security forces kill at least 12 people Saturday in Mandalay, Yangon and elsewhere.

Tens of thousands of government and private sector workers have jumped from work as part of a campaign of civil disobedience. The strikes crippled banking, logistics, transportation and customs clearance, causing stackable goods in ports, and the prices of essential commodities such as rice, cooking oil and fuel are rising.

Before the coup, many poor families were already struggling with reduced incomes due to Covid-19.

“We were concerned about people in peri-urban areas, especially Yangon, who fell through the cracks of the socio-economic impact of Covid,” Anderson said.

“Now we are also facing a virtual paralysis of the banking system, remittances seem to be decreasing or being interrupted, and the social protection support that had been provided also seems to be suspended.”

The remarks by the WFP official highlight a paradox of the civil disobedience movement: strikes and demonstrations by people calling for the restoration of democracy, supposed to thwart the junta, are also starting to hurt some of Myanmar’s most vulnerable people.

Anderson said WFP was monitoring these events as closely as it could, but its priority remained providing food support to around 360,000 people affected by long-standing conflicts in several Myanmar states.

An adviser to a leading charity said poorer people who reduced their food consumption or got into debt after their income fell during the pandemic would now also be affected by rising food prices.

“Threats to the food supply are growing inside the country,” said the official, who asked not to be named due to political sensitivities around the charity’s operations in Myanmar. “On top of that, there is indeed a generalized reduced ability of people to buy food as well.”

The unrest comes at a time when Myanmar farmers are traditionally preparing for the next planting season. The charity adviser said this year they would face “a great amount of disruption” in obtaining or paying for seeds, fuel and farm machinery, threatening the next harvest.

He said many households engaged in panicked purchases of essential food items in the first days after the coup, but: “Now people are hoarding money and eating less.”

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