How international donors can better deliver humanitarian aid to Myanmar – The Diplomat

Displaced people from Myanmar wade across the river to carry food boxes and water bottles from Thailand to Myanmar, seen from Mae Sot, Thailand, February 7, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo

Since the February 1, 2021 military coup, Myanmar has fallen into a state of chaos.

The army’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters and clashes between the army and the People’s Defense Forces and ethnic armed organizations have led to a devastating humanitarian crisis across the country. According to UNHCR’s latest emergency update, an estimated 268,000 people were internally displaced within Myanmar and another 22,000 sought refuge in neighboring countries. Additionally, the collapse of the country’s health infrastructure following the coup has greatly amplified the effects of COVID-19.

The need for humanitarian aid is obvious. However, providing resources to the most vulnerable has proven extremely difficult with active efforts by the Tatmadaw to tie up aid organizations. An analysis of battlefronts and the state of territorial control, however, reveals an underutilized local aid infrastructure and human resources in border regions, through which donors and international organizations could channel aid more effectively. humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar.

Last year’s coup came as a shock to the network of humanitarian and development efforts in the country. Major donors and international organizations reacted to the military coup by taking steps to dissociate themselves from the junta. USAID, which previously worked closely with the pre-coup civilian government, redirected $42.4 million ranging from government-building projects to initiatives supporting civil society organizations. In the same way, the European Union and Japan have suspended support for development projects to avoid financial entanglement with the military. These donors, balancing their political position vis-à-vis the military government and the crying need for aid, established emergency funds. For example, the government of japan decided last July to grant emergency aid of 5.8 million dollars for humanitarian aid to the populations of south-eastern Myanmar. However, channeling humanitarian aid through existing infrastructure has proven extremely difficult.

In the months following the military coup, the Tatmadaw imposed travel restrictions on national and international aid workers and blocked major roads and aid convoys. Physical attacks and arbitrary arrests of humanitarian and health care workers, as well as raids on the offices of local NGOs, have also been reported. In addition, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the junta destroyed emergency supplies and retained oxygen private clinics and charities. These measures have resulted in severe constraints on the provision of emergency resources to the most vulnerable people in the country, all against the backdrop of an increasingly severe banking and supply chain crisis that is causing severe shortages. food, medicine and other essentials.

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An analysis of the current conflict landscape and the state of territorial control can offer crucial insight into the means by which humanitarian organizations can circumvent military obstructions and thus deliver better assistance to Myanmar. Currently, the fighting in the country is taking place on several fronts and involves a multitude of actors. First, sporadic battles are taking place across the country between Tatmadaw forces and the People’s Defense Forces (PDF). The PDFs form the armed wing of the government of national unity, a parallel government formed by a group of elected lawmakers and deputies ousted after the coup. PDF soldiers are mostly former university students and activists. In rural areas, the PDF are mainly engaged in guerrilla warfare, bombarding military assets and intercepting military trucks on main roads. In urban areas, particularly in the Yangon and Mandalay regions, the PDF have staged protests and conducted operations to actively target the military and police. The Tatmadaw responded by arresting and killing PDF soldiers and their family members.

Clashes also continue between the army and ethnic armed groups. Myanmar is home to many ethnic groups, and several have established political and/or military entities to represent the interests of their people. Certain groups, such as the Kachin in the north, the Shan in the east, and the Karen in the southeast, hold significant control over their respective regions. Since the country’s independence in 1948, these armed groups have consolidated their positions by establishing governmental institutions independent of the central state and harboring powerful armies that have intermittently engaged in battles with the army. As a result, the Tatmadaw has little control and limited access to certain border regions as opposed to the Burmese-dominated urban core regions. These ethnically controlled border regions are referred to by the natives of Myanmar as lumyaukneimyeior Free Regions.

The lack of military access to free areas provides an opportunity for the international aid community to circumvent the aid delivery challenges posed by the Tatmadaw. Harassment of aid workers and other military efforts to impede the delivery of humanitarian aid have occurred either in the central Burmese-majority regions or on major roads that are connected to major urban areas. Many local aid workers, as well as protesters from the cities, fled to these free regions due to the draconian repression by the army. The great exodus from the central region of Burma and the battles between the Tatmadaw, The PDFs and EAOs increased the number of displaced people in the Free Regions. Besides a shortage of food, there is a severe lack of medical supplies. Many refugees who managed to reach the free areas suffer from artillery wounds inflicted by the military, while an increase in waterborne diseases has been reported in the makeshift camps.

A closer look at the existing aid infrastructure in these free regions reveals great potential for aid delivery. First, there are many local aid groups active in ethnic states. Many have established a working relationship with their respective ethnic armed groups, which have offered them shelter from harassment by the Tatmadaw. The majority of these local aid groups, however, are very poorly funded. International donors should divert resources to support these local organizations. In addition, among those who have fled from urban areas to free regions, there are many skilled professionals, including doctors, nurses and aid workers, who have been persecuted for their participation in anti-terrorism protests. military. Currently, more than 500 trained doctors and nurses have set up emergency units in the Karen region. Unfortunately, they are running again with very limited resources. Supporting these emergency units would be an effective way to provide some basic health services to the many displaced people in the most vulnerable region of the country.

The humanitarian situation in Myanmar is dire. More than ever, the help of the international community is needed. As part of its efforts to consolidate power since the coup, the military has engaged in destructive activities to cripple the humanitarian aid infrastructure. The analysis of territorial control, however, reveals a way in which international organizations can circumvent military interventions. International organizations should focus on delivering resources to border regions of the country where the military has limited access. Capitalizing on local efforts by supporting poorly funded organizations in border regions will be most effective in helping those most in need in Myanmar.

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