Food Shortages for IDPs Blamed on Funding Cuts, Blocks on Aid

By Nyein Nyein 1 November 2016

Some 40,000 IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan states have been facing food shortages due to the dual problems of being unable to secure longterm food support and the government’s block on food aid, according to local relief groups.

Food shortages for internally displaced people (IDP) in camps in areas under the control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), such as Jayang, Hpun Lum Yang and Mai Ja Yang near the Chinese border, are attributed to subsequent funding shortages. Man Wein Gyi IDP camp in Mansi Township—as well as communities displaced between Sumprabom and Putao since October—have run out of food support due to the Burma Army not allowing aid to be transported to the region.

“It has been two months that rice aid for the IDPs has been blocked, under the accusation that the refugee rations are going into the KIA,” said Sai Sam Kham, director of the Metta Development Foundation, allegations which, he says, are “inflated.”

Over 100,000 people fleeing wars—between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in Kachin State; and between the Tatmadaw and both the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North in Shan State—are taking shelter in makeshift camps in the region.

Those camps in northern Shan State’s government-controlled areas, which host about 20,000 people, were also blocked from receiving deliveries of humanitarian aid.

It has been nearly a year since local relief groups requested permission to contribute support to the IDPs and were turned down by the state government.

Khon Ja, of the Kachin Peace Network, told The Irrawaddy that even though she traveled close to the IDP camps with aid in hand, she could not get in.

“Since October, permission has not yet been given for Man Wein Gyi camp,” she said.

Relief groups point out that blocking access to food is a breach of international humanitarian law.

“We, the NGOs, follow procedures when conducting food delivery to the IDPs; as such, the IDPs must present themselves before taking any rations,” said Sai Sam Kham.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Burma has around one million people in need of humanitarian aid across the nation, affected by war, communal conflicts and natural disasters. But the UN’s humanitarian aid budget covers only an estimated 55 percent of the total need, leaving a gap of US$86 million.

Pierre Peron, spokesperson for OCHA in Burma, told The Irrawaddy that “humanitarian access to conflict areas in Myanmar is currently worse than at any point in the past few years.”

“Predictable, timely humanitarian access is vital for organizations to ensure that the needs of all affected people are adequately met and that protection issues are being addressed,” he added. “Unfortunately, our ability to reach people who depend on humanitarian assistance is getting worse, not better.”

Due to difficulties regarding transportation, the UN’s new form of support has come in terms of cash—9,000 kyats ($7) per person per month—rather than as rice and food packs, which IDPs say has been insufficient.

Khon Ja said that each IDP’s basic needs—for rice, cooking oil, salt, and hygiene products—actually costs double that amount, at 18,000 kyats per month. She and her colleagues have been raising funds to buy rice for the Jayang and Hpun Lum Yang camps, which require at least 38 tonnes of rice each month to feed all residents. Still, even with fundraising, the network has yet to reach the amount needed; Khon Ja said she has been campaigning for more collaboration from people who can contribute.

In addition, the Kachin Peace Network is raising funds for children’s education in the camps, as such programs are currently lacking.

Local relief groups said they could agree in theory to the distribution of cash to IDPs in order to reduce their total reliance on food support. However, the Metta Foundation’s Sai Sam Kham said that there remains no practical solution yet regarding an alternative livelihood for the IDPs, who are unable to return home due to continued fighting and the presence of landmines in their communities.

Even though some of the displaced have crossed the Chinese border seeking work as day laborers, Sai Sam Kham added that IDPs from Burma are currently being exploited, reportedly receiving half of the payment that a Chinese worker would earn for the same job.