Myanmar faces a complex set of political and socio-economic challenges. These directly translate into food insecurity, which greatly hampers the country’s ability to end hunger (SDG 2). Myanmar remains one of the least-developed nations in the world: a majority of its people struggle with physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Women, girls, elderly people, persons with disabilities and minorities are particularly affected.
High levels of food insecurity are prevalent in conflict-affected areas within Chin, Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states, Sagaing and Magway regions, as well as Kayah State and other southeastern parts of the country. Food insecurity is also common in many densely populated areas of the Ayeyarwady delta, the central Dry Zone and peri-urban areas of major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay.
Conflict and political crises continue to hinder progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition. Following decades of military rule, the first civilian government was formed in 2016, albeit in a fragile context marred by long-term conflict in several areas of Myanmar. On 1 February 2021, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) staged a military takeover, ousting the elected civilian government. The political crisis that followed has led to countrywide instability, starting with protests and nationwide general strikes, which resulted in a surge in conflict between various armed groups (including many that formed post-takeover) and the Tatmadaw. At the same time, massive disruptions or slowdowns have been noted in a number of sectors that include banking, healthcare, education and transportation.
In early 2022, almost 900,000 people are displaced across Myanmar, of whom more than 521,000 have been displaced since the military takeover. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar remain in Bangladesh, most of whom fled violence in Rakhine between October 2016 and August 2017.
This new political crisis comes on top of an already fragile situation within Myanmar, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as pre-existing poverty and food and nutrition insecurity.
Even prior to the pandemic, a healthy, nutritious diet remained out of reach for millions – in 2019 only four in 10 households could afford a diet meeting nutritional needs (learn more from the Fill the Nutrient Gap Study).
Nearly one in three children under the age of 5 suffers from stunting (reduced height for their age), while wasting (underweight for their height) stands at 7 percent nationally. Myanmar is one of 30 countries in the world with a high tuberculosis burden. It is also among the 35 countries that account for 90 percent of new HIV infections globally. Education remains inadequate at all levels, with the poorest households most at risk. Girls are more likely to drop out of school at an early age to serve family needs. COVID-19 and the political crisis have further reduced access to quality education for millions of young learners.
Myanmar’s susceptibility to disasters means there is a high risk of destruction of livelihoods, crops and other food sources, as well as displacement, as a result of climate-related events such as cyclones, floods or drought. Severe tropical cyclones – Nargis in 2008, Giri in 2010, Komen in 2015 and Mora in 2017 – caused devastation.
Although Myanmar achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 political crisis risk reversing the significant progress made. Following the significant increase in humanitarian needs since 2021, WFP has been substantially scaling up its operations to provide life-saving food and cash assistance to internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations with little or no access to livelihoods. WFP is also expanding its emergency response into urban areas, where people are increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity. WFP is also continuing its livelihoods, nutrition and school feeding programmes where possible, while continuing to lead on humanitarian support services, including logistics coordination and the provision of humanitarian flights in and out of the country. WFP operations have increased fourfold since 2020.
Despite multiple challenges, WFP, which implemented its first operation in Myanmar in 1978 and established its first country office in 1994, remains committed to supporting the people of Myanmar and responding to ongoing and emerging humanitarian needs.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Myanmar
WFP provides unconditional food and cash assistance to people affected by conflict, inter-communal violence and climate-related disasters, and who have limited or no livelihood options. WFP currently assists over 360,000 internally displaced and conflict-affected people in Kachin, Shan, Chin and Rakhine states, who live in prolonged displacement. Where needed, the monthly basic food basket is supplemented by fortified blended food to address malnutrition in mothers and children under 5. In response to rising food insecurity among urban populations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and political crisis, WFP is scaling up its response, targeting up to 2 million people in Myanmar’s main urban centres.
WFP implements a school meals programme targeting over 400,000 pre- and primary school students in more than 4,000 schools during the academic year (June 2021 to February 2022). Children receive midday biscuit snacks or on-site cooked meals with locally procured food. Cooked meals, while mainly funded by WFP, also include ingredients contributed by parents and the community. WFP provides onsite feeding where schools are open, or take-home rations if premises are not open in some areas.
Asset creation and livelihoods
WFP provides a basic food basket or cash-based assistance, combined with nutrition messaging, to women and men from vulnerable population groups as they participate in the creation and rehabilitation of community infrastructure. These activities are often carried out as an early-recovery measure, to support the rebuilding and restoration of people’s livelihoods after a disaster. WFP promotes equal wages for women and men, through community sensitization.
To improve nutrition and address stunting in children under 5 years of age, WFP provides children, adolescent girls, and pregnant and nursing women, with specialized nutritious foods or cash assistance, combined with a comprehensive nutrition package. This contributes to meeting their essential nutrient needs and to preventing and treating malnutrition.
To ensure nutritional recovery and treatment success, WFP provides people living with HIV and on antiretroviral therapy, as well as tuberculosis patients, with a food basket, specialized nutritious foods and counselling support.
COVID-19 and common services
With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, WFP adjusted its operations to safeguard the people we serve, as well as our staff, by minimizing the risk of transmission. As lead agency for the logistics sector, WFP provides logistics support and coordination to humanitarian partners in Myanmar. Following the cancellation of most commercial flights in 2020, WFP began running a humanitarian air service between Yangon and Kuala Lumpur, as well as Laos. WFP also temporarily provided a domestic humanitarian air service between Yangon and Sittwe between October and December 2020, following a COVID-19 outbreak in Rakhine State. WFP also provides on-demand cash transfer services on behalf of the UN and other partners, to help affected populations meet their essential needs.
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