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Thousands of refugees at displacement camps in northern Kachin State are facing food shortages after the state government stopped aid deliveries to the camps, said an NGO spokesman on Tuesday.
“The latest shipment of aid was due to arrive on 27 October, but it was delayed five or six times,” said Doi Pyi Sa, chairman of the Kachin Refugee Committee (KRC). “We were finally told it would be allowed through on 3 December – but it wasn’t.”
Doi Pyi Sa said the state authorities in Myitkyina had not given permission for the humanitarian supplies to be transported to the camps, which have been routinely been provided monthly shipments of humanitarian aid and rations by UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF.
“Now food is running out in the camps are we are having to look at new avenues for food or ways to improvise,” the KRC chairman said.
Pierre Péron, a spokesperson for UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Rangoon, said that around half of aid allocated to the Internally Displaced Persons [IDP] camps required approval from both the state government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), and that international agencies such as the UN rely on local NGOs to ensure supplies are delivered.
“About half of the estimated 99,000 people displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States are in areas beyond [Burmese] government control, where international organisations have had limited humanitarian access since 2011,” he told DVB by email. “Local NGOs have been, and will continue to be, central to the humanitarian response in Kachin and northern Shan states.
“International organizations support and supplement the activities of local NGOs by providing assistance and technical support through cross-line convoys. These cross-line convoys are cleared through administrative procedures involving both the Myanmar authorities and the KIO, and we are currently waiting for the finalisation of this process.
“The last cross-line convoy was in September 2014, but aid continues to be provided by local NGOs across these areas with the support of international organisations,” Péron said. “The UN is working closely with the authorities and local NGOs to find solutions to ensure that aid reaches all people in need, whether in camps or in host communities.”
Aye Win, the UN information officer in Rangoon, said the IDPs – especially children and the elderly – are also in need of warm clothing and blankets as the cold winter has arrived.
“As the cold season sets in, it is important to urgently deliver winter clothing as well as food to the IDPs,” he said. “We are currently negotiating with the state government to get the green light to transport supplies.”
Much of Kachin and northern Shan states is mountainous and many camps are situated at high altitude. Temperatures frequently fall to below freezing in wintertime.
However, Kachin State government spokesperson Zaw Thein denied the government is stopping the aid convoys.
“We have not blocked access to any aid,” he told DVB. “We let it flow as long as the union government approves it.”
Almost 100,000 villagers have been forced out of their homes and into displacement camps since a ceasefire broke between government forces and Kachin rebels three years ago.