Myanmar faces complex political and socio-economic challenges which compromise the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger (SDG 2). It remains one of the least developed nations in the world, with the majority of people struggling with physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Women, girls, the elderly, persons with disabilities and minorities are particularly affected. High food insecurity rates are particularly prevalent in the isolated zones of Chin, Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states, as well as Sagaing Region, predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities, and in many densely-populated areas of the Delta and the Dry Zone.
Conflict and political instability 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 the country. Over one million people have been displaced from their places of origin since June 2011, notably in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states. More than one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar currently live in Bangladesh, most of whom fled violence in October 2016 and August 2017.
On 1 February 2021, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) staged a coup following allegations of fraud in the November 2020 elections, ousting the elected civilian government. The political crisis has led to countrywide instability, including protests, a nationwide general strike, a surge in conflict between various armed groups and the Tatmadaw, and closures or slowdowns in a number of sectors, including banking, healthcare, education and transportation.
This comes on top of an already fragile situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as pre-existing poverty and food and nutrition insecurity.
Prior to COVID-19, approximately 4 percent of the population (2.1 million people) had insufficient food consumption, while an additional 21 percent had borderline food consumption. In June 2020, WFP estimated that 758,000 people were at risk of falling into food insecurity due to the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, a healthy, nutritious diet remained out of reach for millions – in 2019, only four in ten households could afford a diet meeting nutritional needs, while nine in ten households could afford a diet meeting energy needs (learn more from the Fill the Nutrient Gap Study).
Nearly one in three children under the age of 5 suffers from stunting (short height for their age) while wasting (underweight for their height) stands at 7 percent nationally. Myanmar is one of the world's 20 high tuberculosis burden countries. It is also among the 35 countries accounting for 90 percent of new HIV infections globally. Men and boys are more likely to suffer from HIV due to seasonal migration to border areas where unsafe drug injection and high-risk sexual behaviour are common. Education remains inadequate at all levels. 74 percent of children who enroll complete primary school, but less than half complete middle school and even fewer progress onward. Girls are more likely to drop out of school at an early age to serve family needs.
Myanmar’s susceptibility to natural disasters implies a high risk of destruction of livelihoods, crops and other food sources, as well as displacement, due events such as cyclones, floods or drought. Since 2002, more than 13 million people have been affected by climate-related disasters, including severe tropical cyclones Nargis in 2008, Giri in 2010, Komen in 2015 and Mora in 2017.
Although Myanmar achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015, the ongoing COVID-pandemic and political events in 2021 risk reversing the significant progress made in addressing hunger and malnutrition. In the current context, WFP is focusing on securing its life-saving food and cash assistance to internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations with little to no access to livelihoods, while 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 leading on humanitarian support services, including logistics coordination and the provision of humanitarian flights in and out of the country.
Despite multiple challenges ahead, WFP, which implemented its first operation in Myanmar in 1978 and established its first office in the country 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 or assistance to people affected by conflict or inter-communal violence and climate-related disasters who have limited or no livelihood options. WFP currently assists over 360,000 internally displaced and conflict-affected persons in Kachin, Shan, Chin and Rakhine states. 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-school and primary students in over 4,000 schools during a nine-month academic year (June to September). Children receive either midday biscuit snacks or on-site cooked meals with locally-procured WFP-funded food complemented by other ingredients contributed by parents and the community. WFP supports the development of the national school feeding programme through a multi-sectoral approach. Due to school closures as a result of COVID-19, in 2020 WFP provided take-home rations where possible.
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. WFP promotes equal wages for women and men through community sensitization.
To ensure nutritional recovery and treatment success, WFP provides people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and tuberculosis patients on treatment with a food basket, specialized nutritious foods and counselling support.
To improve nutrition in children under 5 years of age and to address stunting, WFP provides children as well as pregnant and nursing women and adolescent girls 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. WFP targets approximately 180,000 pregnant and nursing women, adolescent girls and young children.
COVID-19 and common services
With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, WFP adjusted its operations to safeguard the people we serve and our staff by minimizing the risk of transmission. As the lead of the logistics sector, WFP provides logistics support and coordination to humanitarian partners in Myanmar. Following the cancellation of most commercial flights, WFP began running a humanitarian air service between Yangon and Kuala Lumpur, and temporarily provided a humanitarian domestic air service between Yangon and Sittwe from October to December 2020, following a COVID outbreak in Rakhine State.
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