By Peter Kenny

GENEVA (AA) – The people of Myanmar are experiencing immense difficulties, and are exposed to many challenges since the Feb. 1 military coup, the local UN World Food Program director said on Friday, noting that poverty, unrest, and a rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic are undermining their ability to feed themselves.

Stephen Anderson, the WFP’s country director in Myanmar, spoke at a UN press briefing in Geneva via video link from the country’s administrative capital Naypyitaw.

“I think the people of Myanmar are going through their most difficult time in memory,” Anderson said, adding that they have had to deal with a slew of challenges and shocks.

The difficulties have piled up since the takeover that overthrew a democratically elected government.

“First of all, there is poverty, which predated the current situation. But since the military takeover, there has been increased political unrest and also an economic crisis,” the WFP official said.

Anderson said Myanmar was hit by a “very tough second wave” of COVID-19 pandemic last year, which had a “devastating impact on people’s livelihoods.”

“And now, the third wave is practically like a tsunami that’s hit this country. It’s hitting all aspects and creating major havoc in terms of people’s health, but we know also it will have a very severe impact on people’s livelihoods,” affecting their ability “to put food on the table.”

In April, the WFP estimated that over the six months from May to October, about 3.4 million people could be pushed into food insecurity, and the factors did not take into account the latest COVID-19 wave.

It warned that its lifesaving operations in Myanmar are being held back by a major funding shortfall, with over 70% of its needs for the next six months still unmet.

“The WFP’s ability to scale up and sustain support is now hampered by an imminent funding shortfall, and urgently requires $86 million until January 2022 to sustain its life-saving operations uninterrupted. Continued support from the international community is now more crucial than ever before,” Anderson said.

The WFP came to Myanmar to support the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, who have faced difficulties for many years, he asserted.

He said that between 800,000 and 1 million Rohingya have fled the country and are now in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, while about 600,000 Rohingya remain inside Myanmar’s Rakhine state, with the UN trying to support the most vulnerable among them.

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