Myanmar: UN aid convoy crosses Kachin frontlines

19 June, 2013
June 2013, Kachin State, Myanmar: A UN relief convoy has delivered assistance to communities cut-off by conflict in northern Myanmar's Kachin State. This is the first time in almost a year that UN agencies have been permitted to access areas outside Government control. Credit: OCHA
June 2013, Kachin State, Myanmar: A UN relief convoy has delivered assistance to communities cut-off by conflict in northern Myanmar's Kachin State. This is the first time in almost a year that UN agencies have been permitted to access areas outside Government control. Credit: OCHA

For the first time in nearly a year, a UN-led aid convoy has been permitted to cross into non-government controlled parts of Myanmar’s Kachin State to deliver food and other lifesaving relief to communities displaced by conflict. Over the past two years, UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations have struggled to gain access to tens of thousands of people living behind conflict lines, with access particularly constrained over the past 12 months.

The five-day, 90 kilometre mission set off from the government controlled town of Bhamo on 12 June, and delivered aid to more than 4,800 people living in six displacement camps along the road to Maija Yang town.

The convoy included aid workers from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and OCHA. In addition to food supplies and nutritional supplements, they also distributed mosquito nets, blankets and hygiene supplies, and trained local NGO staff and community representatives who have been managing the camps.

Since June 2011, fighting between the Government of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organization has displaced an estimated 100,000 people, 60 per cent of whom have been living in areas beyond Government control.

Local partners, with some international support, have had access to these communities and have been able to provide basic assistance. However, despite their efforts, the assistance has not been enough to meet the increasing needs of displaced communities.

UN urges regular and unimpeded access

The cross-line mission offered hope to communities displaced by the hostilities. “Today, I received rice, cooking oil, salt and pulses and some household kits from the UN convoy,” said one mother of three children in Pa Kahtawng camp. “Now the UN is arriving and distributing food and other items. We are very happy and praying God to make this convoy and assistance come to us on a regular basis.”

Oliver Lacey-Hall is the head of OCHA’s office in Myanmar. “The success of this mission depends on whether it is the first of many,” he said. “Regular, unimpeded access will allow us to provide vital assistance in the months ahead, including much-needed shelter.

“Many people we saw are living in overcrowded shelters that are in urgent need of repair. This is of particular concern given that the monsoon rains have already begun.”

In Maija Yang town, one man who received relief items was overjoyed. “I cannot find proper words for my happiness seeing a UN team here in the camp. I am disabled and not able to move to nearby farms to find work. So this assistance is crucial for my family.”

Lasting resolution to conflict is needed

While additional and regular humanitarian convoys are important for conflict displaced communities, they will only provide a temporary solution, cautioned OCHA’s Lacey-Hall.

“Permanent solutions that address the root causes of the conflict are needed,” he said. “A lasting resolution to the fighting in Kachin must be found so that people can return home, rebuild their lives, and live in safety and security.”