A UN convoy of urgently needed humanitarian assistance has reached conflict-affected areas of Myanmar’s northern Kachin State.
"This is a major step forward and follows sustained advocacy on the part of the UN with both the government and Kachin Independence Organization [KIO],” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam told IRIN in Yangon.
The convoy (four trucks and two UN vehicles) arrived in the KIO-controlled township of Sadang from the government-controlled town of Myitkyina on 24 March.
Food assistance for more than 1,000 people for one month is being provided, along with a variety of non-food items ahead of the upcoming monsoon season in May.
This is the second time the Burmese government has allowed the UN to access KIO-controlled areas since the armed conflict between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army broke out June. The last convoy allowed into the area was in December.
“We now need to make these convoys a regular occurrence,” Nigam said.
According to UN estimates, more than 60,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, including 20,000 in government-controlled areas and up to 40,000 in KIO-controlled areas; the vast majority are in camps.
Several thousand others are believed to be in China staying with host families.
Following the government’s request for support, in September 2011 the UN, with the support of international and local NGOs, undertook an inter-agency assessment of nearly 6,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in five government-controlled townships in Kachin State.
Major needs identified included emergency supplies, water and sanitation, food, medical assistance and education materials. At the time, there were about 20,000 IDPs in Kachin State and the northern part of Shan State, but by December their numbers had grown to over 55,000.
The UN and international agencies have had regular access to IDPs in government-controlled areas, but not in KIO-controlled areas, leaving the latter largely dependent on charity groups and local authorities.
Aid agencies do not see a speedy solution: 60,000 people in Kachin and Shan could need sustained humanitarian assistance for at least a year.
Food insecurity is also likely to prevail until at least the end of 2013, since many IDPs left their farms and lost their harvests, and longer term assistance will be needed to rebuild lives in their areas of origin.
“We hope this access to people in need will be sustainable and we will be able to continue to provide assistance to those in need, regardless of where they are,” said Hans ten Feld, country representative of the UN Refugee Agency in Myanmar.