Ongoing sporadic fighting in northern Myanmar between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is pushing up the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of IDPs in Kachin and Shan states has increased to some 75,000, up from about 70,000 in August, following an intensification of clashes in some areas and the forced return of nearly 6,000 displaced from China.
Some 39,000 are in KIA-controlled areas, spread across 36 IDP camps and two forest areas, where access is limited and humanitarian assistance is urgently needed.
Another 33,300 are in 106 camps inside government-controlled areas, while the rest are with host families, says OCHA.
“They [IDPs] always ask me when the war will be over. They don’t want to stay even another day more,” said Kyang Bawn, in charge of the Baptist Camp, which shelters 417 IDPs, in Waimaw, not far from Myitkyina, the provincial capital of Kachin State.
Aye Khel, 33, an IDP and mother of three who recently lost her husband, the sole breadwinner, squats on the floor of a tiny bamboo-and-tarpaulin makeshift hut inside a monastery compound in Waimaw. “I don’t even want to imagine the future,” she said.
Aid workers say the conflict is pushing more and more residents into poverty, despite the region’s rich natural resources, including gold, jade and timber. Currently, some 26.6 percent of Kachin State’s population lives below the poverty line, according to government figures.
Uncertainty over how the IDPs might restart their livelihoods if peace comes, after leaving their farms and orchards unattended for so long, is another worry.
Fighting resumed 16 months ago after the collapse of a 17-year-old ceasefire between the government and KIA, which has been fighting for greater autonomy for the past six decades.
Local charity groups say it will be difficult to provide even the most basic needs to IDPs if the war continues, particularly in KIA-controlled areas.
Lama Yaw of local NGO Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), said there was insufficient food assistance in hard-to-reach areas. “If transportation is cut, it’s very worrisome for the remote areas in both the government and KIA-controlled areas.”
Only 4 percent of food needs have been provided by international aid groups, including the UN, said a recent report by the Kachin Women Association of Thailand (KWAT), which estimates over US$2 million is needed each month just for food.
“Though we have food for now, we’re not sure if we can provide for the next 3-4 months,” said May Li Aung of Wun Pawng Ninghtoi (WPN), an umbrella group of eight local NGOs and charity groups working with displaced civilians on both sides of the Myanmar-Thai border.
With colder temperatures (which can drop to eight degrees Celsius from November to February) just around the corner, aid workers are calling for additional non-food items such as blankets, clothing, and shoes, especially for children.
Though most IDPs can live on food rations provided by the camps, many need money for small household expenses, but there are virtually no jobs, putting many IDPs, especially women, at risk of being exploited or trafficked, said Moon Nay Li, coordinator of KWAT.
Under the inter-agency Kachin Response Plan (July 2012), $35.8 million is required to meet the humanitarian needs of up to 85,000 people between March 2012 and February 2013.
As of 24 October, $26.5 million had been received for humanitarian programmes from various sources, including the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) .