Unrest in Myanmar could block food aid for 500,000 people, UN food agency warns

28 September 2007 –

The restrictions Myanmar has placed on the movement of food due to the current unrest are an obstacle to feeding half a million people, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

“We appeal to the authorities for access to all parts of the country,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said. “We have to protect the most vulnerable people in the country,” most of whom are young children and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients in desperate need of assistance.

Buddhist monks have been leading civil protests in the South-East Asian nation for 11 consecutive days. While the unrest has been concentrated mostly in the main cities of Yangon and Mandalay, the demonstrators’ stand-off with the Government and its response are having consequences in other areas where WFP distributes food assistance.

All movements of food out of the Mandalay Division have been halted by local authorities, and this will impede WFP operations in northern Shan and the Central Dry Zone, both of which depend on food deliveries from Mandalay.

Disturbances in the port town of Sittwe have also thwarted food movement to the agency’s operational areas in north Rakhine State.

Over a three-year period, WFP, which partners on the ground in Myanmar with nearly two dozen UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aims to feed 1.6 million people at a cost of over $50 million. Its operations rely on the Government to facilitate the movement of both food supplies and personnel.

However, the agency currently faces funding shortages – to date, it has only received $12.5 million or just under one quarter of its needs – and thus must scale back its planned assistance to primary school students and vulnerable families.

In its operational areas, WFP’s food assistance is crucial to sustain lives and livelihoods, and without the agency’s support, it is expected that vulnerable families will face acute food shortages while food prices could potentially soar, especially in the post-monsoon season.

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