After a military takeover on February 1, 2021, Myanmar was thrown into a position that undid years of reforms and growth throughout the nation. The military in Myanmar overtook the democratically-elected governing body after its political party did poorly in an election held months earlier. The takeover exacerbated poverty and sparked a humanitarian crisis in Myanmar in 2022, with 40% of the country’s population living below the national poverty line. The conflicts are also expected to leave 2.7 million people in Myanmar displaced by the end of 2023.

In order to improve the struggling economy and humanitarian crisis, many global organizations and international partners have developed plans and initiatives to provide support for addressing poverty in Myanmar.

Difficulties in providing aid

In May 2023, Myanmar was hit by the powerful storm Cyclone Mocha, exacerbating the plight of the country’s most vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, restrictions imposed by the military have hindered the delivery of support to these affected groups. By June 2023, the U.N. had already sounded the alarm, suggesting that the military’s actions might be in violation of international human rights and humanitarian laws, as they seem to intentionally obstruct aid efforts.

As the country remains mired in conflict and devastation, recent estimates from the U.N. reveal that the military has been responsible for the destruction of around 60,000 civilian structures since the onset of the military takeover. Adding to the tragedy, the military’s actions have resulted in the deaths of at least 3,452 people and the imprisonment of over 20,000 individuals between the start of the takeover and April 2023.

Disturbingly, the U.N. issues a stern warning that if the impediments to humanitarian aid persist—blocking essentials like food, water and shelter—it could give rise to further war crimes, including instances of starvation and collective punishment.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Despite the challenges, the United Nations Refugee Agency increased its presence throughout Myanmar in 2022. During the year, the UNHCR helped 325,200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return back to their place of origin in the Rakhine region of the country.

Additionally, the UNHCR provided in-kind support to 500,000 IDPs, shelter support to 100,000 and cash assistance to 51,500. The organization worked to bring this much-needed assistance with the help of partnerships with NGOs, civil societies and faith-based organizations.

The UNHCR also collaborated with other nearby nations such as Indonesia, to provide a safe place for refugees leaving Myanmar to find aid. In 2022, Indonesia accepted more than 700 refugees into the Aceh province.

In 2022, Bangladesh collaborated extensively with the UNHCR to modify refugee education programs to suit refugees from Myanmar. These educational initiatives have benefited more than 40,000 children who relocated to Bangladesh following the military takeover in Myanmar. Given that education is a well-established route out of poverty, ensuring the continuity of education for displaced individuals becomes paramount.

In 2023, UNHCR continued to work closely alongside Bangladesh to continue supporting more than 900,000 Myanmar refugees living in the country. UNHCR will provide production kits to support livelihood creation and skills building for 72,000 households and will continue increasing Myanmar education to an additional 12,280 pre-primary children.

Looking Ahead

Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis continues to persist. Thousands in the country remain displaced and live below the poverty line. However, organizations like the UN Refugee Agency have paired with partners to continue addressing poverty in Myanmar.

Tristan Weisenbach

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar
Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh is home to the largest refugee population in the world. Today, there are almost 1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where poverty rates and living conditions are increasingly affected by changes in annual weather patterns. Massive rainfall in late July 2021 has flooded the region while displacing more than 21,000 refugees and killing 14 people in the district. The government, refugee volunteers and international aid have joined together to provide aid to Cox’s Bazar. The partnership between the groups is important in preventing instability associated with extreme weather.

Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees came west to Cox’s Bazar fleeing persecution from the Myanmar Military. In the past four years, Bangladesh has felt the continued strain of sharing resources with nearly 1 million refugees. The government has remained strict on laws against building more weather-resistant, permanent homes for the displaced Rohingyans. Refugees remain in makeshift shelters exposed to a yearly cycle of worsening weather extremes. Fires in March 2021 destroyed the shelters by the thousands while killing 11 refugees in the process.

The 2021 Monsoon Rains and Flooding

In the same way that too little rainfall will affect agriculture, increase water scarcity and spark fires, too much rain damages housing and infrastructure. Floods and landslides that monsoon rains cause have increased the need for both repairs and supplies in the camps. Over the span of a single day in late July 2021, the region saw near half the average rainfall for that entire month. Heavy rain continues to fall as projections have determined that the monsoon season could last another three months.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Bangladesh released a report on August 1 placing the affected number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar at 46,545. More than 6,000 shelters have undergone damage and others still require assessing due to ongoing floods.

Emergency Response

Floods, landslides and windstorms have local volunteers working to save stranded families, repair the camps and deliver supplies to affected community members. More than 5,000 displaced Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have found shelter with extended family or in community spaces. In addition, 62 learning centers are currently functioning as temporary shelters.

International aid from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its network of humanitarian partners has provided support and disaster response training to both refugee and local community volunteers. The UNHCR Emergency Response Team has been assessing damage to shelters and providing emergency supplies.

The August ISCG report details that 1,060 emergency kits went to affected shelters. Teams are focussing themselves on servicing hygiene facilities and water sources while distributing water treatment tablets and soap.

Changing Weather in South Asia

The World Bank predicted the vulnerability of Cox’s Bazar to natural disasters, similar to the recent floods back in 2018. Recognizing poverty as a serious consequence of rising global temperatures, the World Bank identified hotspot areas where the standard of living would experience a great effect from changing environmental conditions.

South Asia is home to many hotspots. The region varies from extreme hot to extreme cold, making it more vulnerable to changing weather patterns. Bangladesh, especially the district of Cox’s Bazar, is a hotspot where people could see an average 14.4% decline in their incomes by 2050. The effects of environmental changes threaten the ability to sustain both local communities and refugees in the area.

Looking Forward

Bangladesh host communities and Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been working alongside one another in recent disaster relief. Organizations similar to the UNHCR are in place to provide key services and supplies to supplement Bangladesh’s shared resources. To date, the area has only received 30% of the annual Joint Response Plan budget. Increased international funding gives the communities an opportunity to plan and prepare for more unprecedented conditions together.

– Angela Basinger
Photo: Flickr