By Hla Yeik/Kantarawaddy Times
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently reported that one-third of Burma’s population (17.6 million) will need humanitarian assistance this year, but about two-thirds of Karenni State’s population has been displaced for nearly two years and hasn’t received continuous assistance during that period.
While the World Food Programme is helping civilians in the regime-controlled town of Loikaw and has sent some food to the towns of Demawso and Hpruso, the majority of displaced civilians are in rural areas in Demoso and Hpruso townships and others. These people rely on private donations distributed by local groups to survive. It has never been enough, but this year there is even less help for them.
“Some families cannot work on their farms. If we don’t get food rations from donors this year, we’ll face many difficulties,” Daw Kat Tru told Kantarawaddy Times. She said they haven’t received anything for five months in the camp where they live in western Hpruso Township. Fortunately, she and her family received 24 tins of rice and 500 ml of cooking oil just last week.
Some families affected by the conflict grow their own vegetables.
While the UN donates food through the regime’s channels, its soldiers actively prevent food and medicine from reaching those in need in areas controlled by the Karenni Army and Karen Nationalities Defence Force, said a man from the Karenni State IDP Assistance Network, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Before “when we transported food for IDPs (internally displaced persons) sometimes we have to pass through a military checkpoint, but soldiers have impounded the vehicles at the checkpoint or not let them through,” he explained.
Karenni groups have since the beginning of the conflict called on the UN agencies to work with ethnic armed groups to bring much needed aid to their areas.
“If humanitarian aid passes the military, perhaps their agents may come to the IDP camps in our area. We have to think of the security of the IDPs, the local population and and us,” said Khu Nye Reh, interior minister of the Karenni Army’s political arm, the Karenni National Progressive Party. He said there is no doubt that the military is skimming from the aid delivered in their area.
U Banyar, head of the humanitarian aid committee of Karenni State Consultative Council, said international donors must work with local organisations and not exclusively with the military government if they want aid to be distributed effectively.
“It will be difficult to send cross-border humanitarian aid…through the military regime’s channel,” he explained.
About 70 groups distribute aid in the state and 20 are working with the government.
The US has announced a $50 million aid package for Burma this year, but how much of it will reach the Karenni IDPs who need it most is anyone’s guess. At the same time, the military has launched new combat operations, and just last week over 3,000 villagers in eastern Demoso Township were displaced for the first time increasing the need for more food support for the region.