May 27, Thai-Burma Border Consortium
Struggling with Burma's other humanitarian crisis
High-level diplomacy has led to cautious optimism that Burma's military regime may ease restrictions on critically needed emergency relief for survivors of Cyclone Nargis. Out of the media spotlight, however, assistance programmes for refugees from Burma's other humanitarian crisis are in danger of collapsing unless additional donor support can be found.
Protracted armed conflict in eastern Burma has displaced over a million people during the past decade with over 140,000 people currently residing in refugee camps in Thailand. The international community has generously responded with basic food, shelter, health care and education needs for over 20 years.
However, soaring global rice and oil prices during the past few months have left the primary provider of food aid US$6.8 million (EUR 4.3 million) under-funded for 2008. Unless additional funds are urgently secured, rations will have to be reduced to half the international minimum standard of 2,100 kcals/ person/ day from August.
"This would have a very destabilising affect on the camps and within a couple of months we could expect to see significant increases in malnutrition," explained Jack Dunford from the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). "The protective community structures afforded by the camps would be undermined and refugees forced to supplement their food by leaving the camps at considerable risk of abuse and exploitation", he warned.
TBBC has issued emergency funding appeals, and has already received some additional government support from the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland. Responses from the USA, UK, Canadian and Spanish governments are still pending, but time is running out. The TBBC Board will meet on June 5 to review projected expenditures and funding for the remainder of the year, and currently has no choice but to drastically reduce food rations.
"The months ahead are fraught with uncertainty for Burma after Cyclone Nargis. Millions of Burmese have been affected. Huge numbers of people have been displaced and there must be considerable doubts about how quickly the economy can be restored. It is likely that the whole humanitarian response for Burma will have to be re-thought including support to refugees, internally displaced and migrants", commented Mr. Dunford.
"During these uncertain times, it is important to maintain stability in the border areas. Allowing assistance programmes to collapse at this point would only add to the human suffering. Unlike the situation in Burma, mechanisms for delivering effective assistance to the refugees are well established. Resolving the rice price crisis now will ensure stability in the short term enabling a more strategic response to be developed in the post-cyclone context", he appealed.
Media contact :
TBBC Deputy Executive Director