The Nippon Foundation launched a humanitarian aid initiative approximately one year ago to assist those who have been affected by the conflict between the government of Myanmar and Non-state Armed Groups (NSAGs). In light of the foundation’s efforts, many of the internally displaced persons who fled to mountainous areas and elsewhere for refuge have receive rice and medicine, making difficult living conditions more bearable.
Improving the Lives of Conflict Affected Peoples
As a result of almost 60 years of clashes between the Myanmar military and NSAGs, people among the ethnic groups have fled to the country’s mountainous border areas for refuge. According to the estimates of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, these conflict-affected people, both refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) number around 870,000. They had to abandon their homes and fields to hide out in the mountains, where they have had to struggle to meet their basic needs.
Starting in December 2012, the Nippon Foundation began to provide aid to these conflict-affected peoples in Myanmar through the provision of rice and medicine. In the current phase of assistance, it is projected that a total value of $3.3 million in assistance will be supplied. Already, approximately 47% of the rice and 21% of the medicine have been distributed to the conflict-affected people. During the rainy season, which begins in late May, the supply of aid was interrupted temporarily as roads leading to areas inhabited by ethnic people were blocked. However, with the arrival of the dry season in November, full-scale provision of supplies resumed. Thus, over the past year, the aid effort has made steady progress, in line with plans.
Total Amount of Rice and Medicine Delivered (As of October 31, 2013)
|Items||(A) Budget||(B) Amount delivered||(B)/(A) %|
|Medicine for clinics (US$)||633,829||134,423||21%|
The situation of ethnic people in Myanmar is complexly intermeshed with political elements, and there are areas even today where tension remains. Takehiro Umemura, manager of the Nippon Foundation’s Myanmar Liaison Office, who handles the frontline humanitarian aid, points out that obtaining the approval of both the government and the specific NSAGs was an absolute precondition for the relief effort to begin. He explains:
“If we had rushed into the relief effort in tense areas without receiving the approval of both sides, it could have led to new conflicts. This was something that we wanted absolutely to avoid. The decisions as to who would receive aid, what areas would be targeted, and how much would be distributed were ironed out through discussions between the Myanmar Peace Center, which coordinates issues related to the conflict affected people in Myanmar, the representatives of each of the non-state armed groups, and the Nippon Foundation. In terms of the timing for provision of aid, we began with those areas where a final consensus had been reached between stakeholders, having confirmed that the situation in the given area was stable and the preparations had been made to receive the aid.”
Myanmar People Take the Lead
Some aspect of the Nippon Foundation’s humanitarian aid effort in Myanmar is being carried out with assistance provided by the Thailand-Japan Education Development Foundation. The rice for distribution is purchased locally by the Nippon Foundation Myanmar Liaison Office and distributed directly to the targeted regions. However, there are areas, due to the difficult geographic conditions, where supplies are instead purchased in Thailand and then delivered via its border with Myanmar. The rice the Nippon Foundation is supplying comes in either a 50-kilogram or 25-kilogram sack. Two sizes are used because some areas cannot be accessed by trucks, requiring the use of donkeys instead. There are also places where rice can only be delivered by foot.
Umemura recounts one memorable incident that occurred when rice was delivered to a village in Karen State.
“On that particular occasion, the rice was handed out at a place that was rather far from the area where the conflict-affected people were living; they had walked some three hours to get to the distribution point. When we started handing out the rice I could see from the smiles on their faces, how much they had been looking forward to receiving them. And then, to our surprise, they gave us a load of bananas in return to express their gratitude. We were all deeply moved by their resilience and their acts of kindness in such trying circumstances. I’ll never forget the taste of those bananas we received.”
Amount of Rice and Medicine to Be Delivered to Each Area (as of October 31, 2013)
|Budget (kg)||Amount delivered to date (kg)||budget (units)||Amount
|Bago Region||13||KNLA Kon-phe||30,000||30,000||0||0|
“The peace that Myanmar is pursuing is something that will come about from the efforts of the Myanmar people themselves,” Umemura added. “My hope is that the aid we are providing to the conflict-affected people living in Myanmar will help improve their lives and contribute, in however modest a way, to the nation-building effort in Myanmar.”
The Nippon Foundation intends to bolster its base in Myanmar and steadily expand the scope of its humanitarian aid on a medium to long-term perspective.