Widespread conflict since the military took control of Myanmar has increased the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to nearly 900,000, according to the United Nations, and aid workers say that worsening food shortages are pushing the country ever closer to the brink of a humanitarian disaster.
Last week, the UN Humanitarian Office said that 519,900 people had been displaced by clashes between the military and anti-junta forces throughout the country of 54 million since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup, bringing the total of IDPs in Myanmar to 890,300.
The estimate of IDPs, which adds to the 370,400 people who had already fled conflict zones in Myanmar prior to the coup, came as a rights group called on foreign governments to take stronger action against the military’s widespread abuses in the lead up to Armed Forces Day celebrations planned by the junta for the weekend.
The agency said that civilians are suffering the consequences of escalated fighting in northwestern Myanmar’s Magway and Sagaing regions and the southeastern states of Kayah and Kayin, while aid groups have been hampered by tight security. The four areas are centers of fierce resistance to junta rule and have seen some of the worst violence since the coup.
An aid worker who spoke to RFA’s Myanmar service on condition of anonymity said refugees in the isolated Kayah townships of Demawso and Phruso have only poor-quality rice to eat each day because roadblocks erected amid the clashes had led to food shortages.
“The situation in Phruso is particularly bad. There’s been a severe food shortage there for a long time because they don’t have rice fields in the area and no rice can be transported there,” the worker said. “Even if you have money, you can’t buy rice anywhere.”
The worker added that those who have sought shelter in makeshift camps are also suffering from shortages of drinking water and medicine.
In Sagaing region, where the military is engaged in a scorched earth campaign, junta troops have attacked villages, setting some on fire and forcing residents to flee.
A resident of Shar Lwin village in Sagaing’s Khin Oo township, where 63 houses were recently destroyed by arson during a military raid, said inhabitants are too frightened to return to the area and are facing a water shortage while in hiding.
“Many villagers are in trouble. We are hiding in the forest and … as summer approaches, the major problem is water scarcity,” he said.
“There are health problems due to the change in climate. Not just our village, but all the villages in the area are suffering. I’m praying for a quick end to these troubles.”
In Khin Oo’s Kala Lu and Shar Lwin villages alone, troops set fire to at least 327 homes during the month of March, displacing an estimated 2,500 people.
In Southern Chin state’s Kanpetlet township, a week of intense fighting between the military and the anti-junta Kanpetlet Chin Defense Force (CDF) from March 10-17, forced more than 1,000 people from 10 villages to flee to the jungles, residents said — most of them with only the clothes on their backs.
“Fighting has been going on for some time between the junta and the CDF and the military fired heavy weapons randomly into the area several times,” said one of the township’s residents, who also declined to be named.
“All the elderly, children and disabled are now hiding in the forests and mountains. When fighting broke out, people were not prepared, so they had to flee to safety in a rush with nothing they needed. Everyone is having a hard time without any food.”
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