ASIA/MYANMAR - Drought, floods, poverty and war: the real plagues of the nation

Thursday, 9 July 2020 human rights   poverty   wars   hunger   food safety   children  

Bagan (Agenzia Fides) - In the small town of Nyaung U, in the central plains of Myanmar, the distribution of food is an occasional fact. A truck loaded with giant cabbage stops in the neighborhood and distributes a cabbage per family. But it is a case in fact: the feared shortage of food and an exaggerated increase in poverty is, at least here, a reality that is not perceived. For almost a month, commercial activities have resumed, the market - which had been moved to an outdoor peripheral area - has returned to its place and the town has slowly awakened. But Nyaung U is a special place: it is the reference country of Bagan, the most important place for Burmese Buddhists, the destination of a continuous pilgrimage to the over three thousand monasteries, pagodas, libraries that date back to ten centuries ago and which are Unesco heritage. So, alongside the litanies of the faithful in prayer, the rows of monks in purple robes, the hundreds of pilgrims who crowd the pagodas, an increasing number of tourists come here, in the Mandalay district, every year from Europe, the United States but also from Japan or Korea not to mention the Chinese who, for some years, have become the favourites of Asian tourism. Here the three months of lockdown have left a relative mark and some pilgrims are beginning to appear again, but the situation is very different in the surrounding area.
In the Cesvi headquarters, an NGO of the Italian city of Bergamo that works in the agricultural area - sadly famous as a "dry zone" due to the extreme aridity of the area - explains that this year the monsoon is late and that the first sowing of peanuts, sesame and beans in many cases have not taken root: "The best seeds - project manager Andrea Ricci explains to Fides - have been largely lost" and now the NGO of Bergamo, with the support of the Italian Agency for Cooperation (Aics), is working on a bank guarantee fund to allow anyone - even those who do not have title deeds - to have at least a small credit and restart agricultural work.
Industry suffers too: according to official data, at least 250 thousand Burmese have lost their jobs due to the virus, 110 thousand of whom in Thailand or China which absorbs a large part of Burmese labor - even if not regulated - abroad, which has more than 3 million migrants. According to the World Bank, Myanmar's economic growth could drop from 6.8% to 0.5% due to Covid and, in June, over 350,000 people were assisted by the UN Food Program, a figure related in part to the enormous amount of displaced people in the Rakhine and Chin States but also to people in difficulty, including over 30,000 migrant workers returning to the Country for the Covid emergency.
If stocks, government programs, humanitarian assistance have partially cushioned the virus emergency, many Burmese are in difficulty because of ancestral problems. The latest terrible episode - an avalanche of mud that buried over 170 miners in Kachin - tells of biblical plagues: drought, locusts or floods but also indiscriminate use of the territory and continuous violations of rules at work. The situation of children is particularly serious: although Yangon has adopted a law on children's rights and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding their involvement in armed conflict, the United Nations has verified 432 serious violations against 420 children, as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has just made known in his annual report. In Myanmar, the war in the Rakhine and Chin states is the living condition for thousands of minors as well and the UN has verified the use of 50 children between 12 and 17 years of age in armed rebel groups. But the recruitment of minors is also due to the regular army (Tatmadaw) with the use of at least 197 children for maintenance or logistics in military camps. Finally, the UN verified the killing of 41 minors and the mutilation of another 120 (about half are female): they are verified victims in the states of Rakhine (95), Shan (50), Kachin (8), Kayin (4 ), Kayah and Chin (1 each), and in the Mandalay and Magway regions (1 each). They are the small victims of war, most of the deaths are victims of crossfire, anti-personnel mines, shooting and artillery shelling. (MG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 9/7/2020)