Myanmar allows first food delivery to Rakhine amid ongoing crackdown

(Credit: Anne Dirkse / Flickr)

For the first time since insurgent attacks on Oct. 9 resulted in an ongoing military crackdown in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, the World Food Program is allowed to deliver food to displaced people.

The World Food Program (WFP) resumed distributing food Tuesday to “6,500 of the most food-insecure people” in four villages in Maungdaw township, according to the latest report. Before the security incidents, food, cash and nutrition assistance from WFP regularly reached 152,000 people.

Last week, the government of Myanmar promised visiting diplomats that it would provide humanitarian support for up to 15,000 people displaced since Oct. 9 and resume programs that had been halted in the crackdown, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Lok-Dessallien told Reuters on Thursday.

Lok-Dessallien along with ambassadors of the U.S., U.K., EU, China and other nations spent two days visiting affected villages that were closed to aid workers and journalists in order to promote access and transparency.

“While some aid has been delivered in recent days, UNICEF calls for full resumption of essential services and the urgent lifting of all restrictions of movement of health and other professionals so they can safely reach children and families,” the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a press release on Tuesday.

A severe military crackdown has restricted movement and aid since unidentified insurgents attacked border police posts in Maungdaw township on Oct. 9, killing nine police officers.

The militants are believed to be Rohingya Muslims – a stateless group of 1.3 million considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the country’s majority Buddhist population and denied citizenship by the government. Many of them are restricted to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or closely guarded villages, where access to basic human rights, such as health care and education, is limited.

According to Reuters, the violence following Oct. 9 has been the most serious since riots in 2012 killed hundreds and displaced 100,000.

The delegates last week also called for a “independent, credible investigation” into recent allegations of rape, abuse, burning homes and executions by government security forces. The government of de facto leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi denies the allegations and has repeatedly tread lightly on the subject of ethnic conflict.

In a press release Monday, the government said that only 16 displaced people from five families remain in Maungdaw for medical attention, while the other 151 have returned home to harvest. But that count is from one camp set up in a monastery.

Meanwhile, WFP reports 162,000 food-insecure people affected with 78,000 in need of immediate food. WFP warns that food insecurity may be exacerbated “both due to the disruption of food distributions and the timing that may prevent people from harvesting their crops.”

Logistical challenges are also preventing aid from reaching more rural areas. Because of the turbulent situation, WFP is struggling to find boat transporters willing to deliver nutrient-dense food to 17,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers and malnourished children in rural areas of nearby Buthidaung township that are accessible only by boat.

Myanmar’s food security landscape has improved rapidly in the last couple of decades, but it continues to have a “serious” rate of hunger, according to this year’s Global Hunger Index. According to the index, 14.2 percent of the population is undernourished, and WFP reported in May that 19 percent of children under five in Maungdaw township are malnourished.

Allowing food delivery to 6,500 people in Maungdaw is a welcome first step, but the U.N. is continuing to “advocate strongly for full access to all affected areas” before improvements are reversed and goals made impossible.

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Joanne Lu

Joanne Lu is a South Carolina-based writer and editor dedicated to global development, poverty alleviation and social justice. After a year in Rwanda, she now covers the Asia-Pacific and economics. Find her on Twitter @joannelu or email joanne@humanosphere.com.