Burma: Karen villagers go hungry as fighting continuesBy Zin Linn May 11, 2011 8:15PM UTC
As fighting between Karen rebels and Burma Army continues, the threat of brutality by Burmese soldiers still exists. Villagers also have to face arrest as well as being forced to act as porters and carry military supplies for the junta’s soldiers.
Schools have had to close due to the risks of continued armed conflicts. Villagers dare not work in their own fields because of physical risk. Threats include death, injury, or destruction of property as a result of skirmishes between armed groups.
At least 8,885 villagers in 118 villages in northern Papun District in Karen State say they have run out of food or will do so before the October 2011 harvest, according to a media relaease by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG).
As a result of limited financial resources, local humanitarian organizations have been incapable of supplying emergency assistance. The current food shortage in Lu Thaw Township is directly linked to attacks on villagers by Burma’s state armed forces. Those armed hostilities have caused not only displacement but food insecurity since a severe drought also hit recently, latest research by KHRG indicates.
KHRG Field Director Saw Albert’s research team conducted 41 interviews in the affected area during February and March 2011. The team learned that families had already run out of food, and they expected that their food supplies would not last until the next harvest. This food shortage is challenging the villagers to survive while hiding in the jungle. They are becoming displaced again and more vulnerable to attacks and other human rights abuses, KHRG said.
KHRG’s report details the causes of the current food shortage, and analyses the humanitarian consequences of mass displacement as tens of thousands of civilians in Lu Thaw have gone into hiding in remote upland areas to avoid Burmese armed forces attacks and other abuses, which remain ongoing.
Armed forces attacks have cut off families from agricultural land. As they have to evade attacks, they cannot produce food in their hiding places. Villagers attempting to survive in such areas are exceedingly vulnerable to external shocks to their livelihoods. Moreover, a lack of rain during the recent monsoon appears to have marked a tipping point between constant food insecurity and the acute food scarcity currently threatening at least 8,885 villagers in Lu Thaw Township.
The impact of food shortages on the civilian population is magnified by budgetary constraints of local relief organizations. Because of limited donor support, organizations normally able to access affected areas of eastern Burma are currently unable to provide emergency assistance to all those in acute need, the rights group said. The research team’s report argues that emergency assistance is vital to support the displaced villagers where they can better avoid Burmese armed forces. It is the only effective means of protecting their human rights.
“Emergency assistance to villagers facing food shortages should be prioritised and pursued by any actor that wants to promote human rights in eastern Burma,” said Albert.
“Villagers have told us they would like to remain near their homes and lands, but that some families might become refugees or try to farm on land where they are more vulnerable to attacks if they can’t find more food. Emergency assistance will support villagers’ efforts to protect their human rights by helping them overcome the food insecurity they face while living in hiding.”
According to KHRG’s previous report, many villagers have decided to run away with their families temporarily toward more secure hiding places from which they can monitor the security situation and check on their homes, property and crops.
Villagers attempting to take temporary sanctuary in Thailand, however, have faced a number of obstacles. Food, fresh water and medicine will be the most serious demands. Several sources including the DKBA, have told that they expect the battles to continue in the near future.