UN official says Myanmar’s people are in “serious crisis”



UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations’ chief humanitarian officer in Myanmar said Thursday that the people of the Asian nation are living in “a grave crisis,” with levels of poverty not seen in at least 20 years.

Andrew Kirkwood said in a virtual briefing to UN correspondents that the number of people in the country in need of help has tripled to 3 million since the military seizure of power on Feb. 1, while a total of 20 million live in poverty, or nearly half the population.

From Yangon, the country’s largest city, Kirkwood said the crisis was the result of mounting local unrest, the military overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government, and the coronavirus pandemic that had a “devastating third wave” of infections this summer.

“So we effectively have a crisis here, on top of a crisis with another crisis on top,” he said.

When Myanmar’s army took power from the government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, it claimed, with little evidence, that the parliamentary elections, which their party’s landslide won last November, were overshadowed by widespread electoral fraud. The takeover sparked street protests that security forces tried to crush. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and right-wing groups, the pushback cost the lives of more than 1,100 people.

The conflict has gone from widespread protests on the city streets to clashes with ethnic armed groups and so-called People’s Defense Forces.

As of February 1, Kirkwood said the UN Food and Cash Aid Program has reached more than 1.4 million people in rural communities across Myanmar, as well as in some urban and semi-urban centers.

“We save lives. We make a difference, ”said Kirkwood. “But we are also quite frustrated that these numbers are not higher and that we cannot reach all of the 3 million people we know are in dire need of humanitarian aid.”

Kirkwood, the acting United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, cited “significant operational challenges,” including roadblocks and travel in the country, pandemic restrictions and general insecurity. He called on all parties to “use their influence to facilitate safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers and our humanitarian aid supplies.”

Kirkwood named the serious underfunding of the UN appeal as a further key factor.

“We raised a total of $ 385 million this year to reach those 3 million people,” he said. “Today we received about a third of it. And that means we have a funding gap of around $ 250 million. And that in turn means that we cannot reach everyone who needs our help. “

Kirkwood also called on the conflicting parties to “depoliticize our humanitarian and COVID-19 response efforts.”

“The emotions are very high here,” he said. “Many people are frustrated and some openly confuse the provision of humanitarian aid with taking sides in the conflict.”

Kirkwood said the 1 million people the United Nations supported prior to the military takeover were mostly in border areas where conflict has lingered for decades and the United Nations found ways to work.

“Now the conflict is escalating there,” he said, but the more acute problem lies in new displaced areas where clashes between the military and the People’s Defense Forces have occurred

“The 2 million people are in these new conflict areas,” said Kirkwood, referring to current hotspots in western Chin state, “where we have displaced tens of thousands of people in the past few days – entire villages have been displaced, people who live in the forest , with very, very little. “There are also places in the center of the country,” in the so-called Bomar heartland, “he said.

Kirkwood said that without major new funding, it will be impossible for the UN to help the 2 million people who need help now and some of the 20 million who may need it soon.

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