Friday, May 1, 2009

Food crisis in rural Burma

Bangkok,( Villagers in rural Burma are facing a severe food crisis, requiring urgent attention by the international community, according to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), who today released the report Food crisis: The cumulative impact of abuse in rural Burma. The 28-page briefing paper examines the widespread and sustained human rights abuses at the root of this crisis and states that the crisis is a direct result of systematic militarisation and exploitation by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta currently ruling Burma.

In SPDC-controlled areas, the combination of military demands in the form of forced labour, arbitrary taxation, looting and ad hoc demands for food, money or other supplies, together with land confiscation, movement restrictions and forced relocation, have placed an unsustainable burden on villagers' livelihoods, exacerbated poverty and dramatically increased food insecurity.

Meanwhile, in areas not under firm military control, SPDC forces are trying to force villagers into relocation sites by attacking villages and destroying food stores, fields and livestock. Villagers who manage to escape such attacks and flee into situations of displacement in forest hiding sites face further threats to their food security, as a shoot-on-sight policy, landmines and restrictions on trade make it extremely difficult for villagers to leave their hiding site in order to collect hidden food stores, work their former fields or purchase food supplies.

According to Saw Albert, a Karen spokesperson for the report, “The food crisis has been gradually worsening since the beginning of the SPDC's Northern Offensive in late 2005. With increased attacks on village communities and an intensified forced relocation campaign over the last three and a half years, food insecurity is at an all-time high. In military-controlled areas, villagers struggle to both meet the constant demands of the SPDC and their allied military groups and provide food for their families. While in displaced areas, villagers have to share limited food supplies with each other just to stay alive.”

Recognising the numerous strategies that villagers are already using to address food insecurity, the briefer gives recommendations to the international community on actions that can be taken to alleviate the current crisis and prevent future abuse and malnutrition in rural Burma. These recommendations include increased support for cross-border aid and local civil society organisations which can access affected populations and support for the local food security protection measures that villagers in rural Burma have already developed.

KHRG spokeswoman, Naw September Paw called for increased humanitarian aid to villagers in rural Burma: "Villagers in Karen State are faced with a serious food crisis as the direct result of military exploitation and abuse. In response, villagers have tried to find various ways to address this crisis, to maintain their livelihoods and resist abuse. Despite these strategies, there is a great need for humanitarian aid to be scaled up to reach these people. However, it is the locally-driven protection measures developed by villagers themselves that should first be taken into account in order to effectively address this crisis."

- Asian Tribune -


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