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6 April 2009

The United States donated 16,000 tons of rice to cyclone victims in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta where a humanitarian crisis persists nearly a year after the disaster, the U.S. Embassy in Yangon said Friday. [...] The donation "illustrates how U.S. assistance can help respond to the humanitarian crisis which is far from over for many people in the hardest hit areas of the Irrawaddy Delta," Larry Dinger, U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon, said in a statement. Dinger traveled to the delta with the U.N.'s World Food Program on Wednesday. [...] WFP spokesman Paul Risley said the U.S. donation was crucial because the region's rice farmers were still struggling to replant their flooded fields. About 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) of rice paddy were submerged by massive waves and 85 percent of seed stocks was destroyed.


2 April 2009

The United States wants to forge a common strategy with Asia to coax military-run Myanmar out of isolation, a senior official said yesterday, suggesting six-way talks with North Korea could be a model. President Barack Obama’s administration has launched a review of policy on Myanmar, also known as Burma, where a US official last week paid the first visit by a senior envoy in more than seven years. [...] Meanwhile, the US government donated 16,000 tons of rice to typhoon-ravaged Irrawaddy delta yesterday, prompting the normally hostile state-run media to the cover the news, an official of the US Embassy in Yangon confirmed. “There were five journalists from Ministry of Information who joined our trip for the first time,” the official said. The trip was led Larry Dinger, the deputy chief of mission, and included officials from the World Food Programme. The donated rice was imported from the US, sources said.


2 April 2009

The United States has donated more than 16,000 tons of rice to help survivors of last year's devastating cyclone in military-ruled Myanmar, officials said. The rice is part of a $28 million American food aid package distributed through the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which left 140,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million people severely affected last May. "The United States government is the WFP's single largest donor for the cyclone victims," said Chris Kaye, the U.N. agency's country director, speaking to Reuters on Wednesday at a WFP distribution camp near Labutta in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy Delta. [...] The Obama administration announced in February that it was conducting a review of its policy toward Myanmar to find new ways to sway one of the world's most reclusive regimes.


1 April 2009

Food insecurity is nothing new for many Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, most of whom live in abject poverty, but this year is particularly bad. Of the state's almost one million inhabitants, about 85 percent are Rohingya, an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority that are de jure stateless in line with the country's laws. [...] The price of rice, a staple, was 75 percent higher in June 2008 against 2007, prompting many Rohingya families to forgo one meal a day. "Our recent field reports indicate a similar, if not worse, situation as regards household food insecurity in the early months of this year, largely due to growing levels of debt, a reduced harvest in the main 2008-2009 agricultural season, coupled with declining opportunities for wage labour," Chris Kay, country director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN in Yangon, the former Burmese capital.


19 March 2009

Despite all the promises of development, and the promotion of other crops such as tea, asparagus and rubber, switching out of poppies had left most farmers in Myanmar and Laos worse off, even before the current global downturn. UNODC and the Laotian government had to appeal to the World Food Programme (WFP) for emergency food aid. More than half the 2,058 villages in the provinces of Phongsaly, Houaphan and Xieng Khouang, most of which had been put under pressure to abandon opium, were short of food. A former WFP representative in Vientiane, Christa Rader, concludes that massive development programmes will be needed to help former opium-growers find other ways of making ends meet.


5 March 2009

Red and white opium poppies are back in colourful profusion once again, expanding across the mountainous landscapes of northern Laos after several years of intensive poppy eradication. Illicit cultivation is also on the rise in the Shan states of Burma. UN drug officials are alarmed that the effect of the global economic crisis on the value of cash crops is tempting impoverished hill farmers to return to growing the one crop that offers stable financial returns. [...] The wisdom and sustainability of UN's anti-opium strategy has been consistently challenged by NGOs, development workers and academics. Dr David Feingold, an anthropologist and expert on the Akha hill tribe says: "The opium eradication policy in Laos was both poorly conceived and poorly executed." Without viable alternatives, former opium farmers became destitute and dependent on emergency food aid from the UN's World Food Programme (WFP). Given that the UN millennium objectives are all about enhancing food security, the hastily implemented campaign against opium cultivation had achieved just the opposite.


15 February 2009

For generations, the ethnic Muslim Rohingya have endured persecution by the ruling junta of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. The plight of the Rohingya, descendants of Arab traders from the 7th century, gained international attention over the past month after five boatloads of haggard migrants were found in the waters around Indonesia and the Andaman Islands. [...] Twice since the 1970s, waves of attacks by the military and Buddhist villagers forced hundred of thousands of Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh, a Muslim country whose people speak a similar language. Many have since been repatriated, but 200,000 still work there as illegal migrants and another 28,000 live in squalid refugee camps. [...] Most refugee advocates expect Rohingya migrants will keep coming. "My 14 children rely on me. They have no safety, no food, nothing," said Mohamad Salim, a 35-year-old, bearded fisherman who also was detained and hospitalized in Thailand and begged to be allowed to continue onto Malaysia. "What will they eat? How will they live if I don't find work?" he said, his voice trembling.


9 February 2009

Military-ruled Myanmar needs around $700 million in aid over the next three years to recover from last year's devastating cyclone, an aid coordinating group said on Monday. The appeal, focused on eight key areas including nutrition, health and livelihoods, comes at a time when many countries are being squeezed by the global economic crisis. [...] Last year's flash appeal for more than $470 million in aid after Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta on May 2 has raised $310 million so far. But officials from the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were confident donors would help with the three-year recovery plan. [...] Lack of new credit and access to markets have saddled many delta farmers with heavy debts, said Chris Kaye, country director for the U.N.'s World Food Programme. A survey of more than 2,000 households in October 2008 found that one in three were still in temporary shelters. Access to clean water remains a challenge.


5 February 2009

Myanmar, once known as the rice bowl of Asia, still boasts a surplus of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rice and maize. Yet a tenth of the population is going hungry, according to the first U.N. food security report on the country. "The reality is that this country has got massive potential," said Chris Kaye, country representative for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), which has been operating in Myanmar since 1994. "Not only is it a major producer of rice but also many other agricultural products. There should not be a need for food assistance in Myanmar," said Kaye. [...] In remote Chin, a rat infestation triggered by bamboo flowering in early 2007 has affected food supplies, the report says. Kaye told AlertNet that the state, the poorest in Myanmar, is "very poorly served by development assistance and there's been limited support from the government." Northern Rakhine is home to the Rohingyas, an oppressed Muslim minority who have recently turned up on the shores of Thailand and Indonesia with tales of abuse by both the Thai and Myanmar militaries.


5 February 2009

At least he tried. That is probably the best that could be said for Ibrahim Gambari’s latest mission to Myanmar, which ended on February 3rd. The four-day visit was the Nigerian’s seventh as the United Nations’ envoy to the country, a job whose history is strewn with past failures. [...] Western donors had hoped that international cyclone relief would crack open the door to broader co-operation on aid, and perhaps a dash of glasnost. There is little sign that it did. The World Food Programme recently reported that Myanmar will need 185,000 tonnes of food aid this year, after the cyclone and a rat infestation have ruined crops. But its ability to deliver grain to the needy is strangled by the junta’s controls, particularly in desperately poor western Myanmar.