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Food Insecurity Grips Myanmar as UN Struggles to Help

FILE - People wait to receive bags of rice distributed by the World Food Program (WFP) as part of food aid efforts to support residents living in poor communities on the outskirts of Yangon, May 21, 2021.

Millions of people in Myanmar are facing food insecurity, and the world’s largest humanitarian organization warned Friday that a lack of funding is preventing it from providing adequate aid.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) needs $86 million, which represents 70 percent of its funding needs, to continue operations in Myanmar, the organization said.

According to the WFP’s latest estimate, 6.2 million people in Myanmar could face food insecurity by October, a crisis that is compounded by ongoing political unrest and a third wave of the coronavirus sweeping the country.

“We have seen hunger spreading further and deeper in Myanmar,” WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson said in a statement. “Nearly 90 percent of households living in slum-like settlements around Yangon say they have to borrow money to buy food.”

FILE - A boy walks on a bamboo bridge by his home in a poor community on the outskirts of Yangon, May 21, 2021.
FILE - A boy walks on a bamboo bridge by his home in a poor community on the outskirts of Yangon, May 21, 2021.

Since the country’s military took over the government in a February coup, an estimated 1.2 million jobs have been lost in Myanmar when compared to the final quarter of 2020, representing a six percent drop in employment.

The economic fallout comes as citizens have gone on labor strikes to protest the military junta and COVID-19 continues to run rampant. Job losses have hit every sector of the economy and worsened the pre-existing poverty in the country.

The WFP has reached 1.25 million people in Myanmar with food, cash and nutrition assistance during 2021, but emphasizes that maintaining operations over the next six months without more funding is uncertain.

“Now more than ever, the people of Myanmar need our support,” Anderson said. “We are deeply grateful for the backing of the international community – the people of Myanmar will never forget your generosity and solidarity.”

In February, the Myanmar military responded to a landslide election win from the National League for Democracy party by forcibly overtaking all three branches of government.

The military had backed the NLD’s political opponent, the Union Solidarity and Development Association party, which claimed the election was rigged in the NLD’s favor.

The military junta immediately sparked mass protests in Myanmar and condemnation from world leaders. The ruling military responded by killing hundreds of protesters and arresting thousands of activists and journalists. More than 200,000 people have been displaced as they’ve fled the violence.

The junta’s leader recently declared himself the country’s prime minister and extended military rule for two more years, promising to hold a new multi-party election in 2023.