Fri 5 Aug 2005
Filed under: Health / AIDS,News
August 4: One-third of all children in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition – a serious risk to the future of a country whose development has long been stalled by political deadlock – a U.N. official said Friday.
Bureaucracy and other barriers are hindering the U.N. World Food Program’s aid distribution in the military-ruled country, WFP Executive Director James T. Morris said in Thailand after a four-day visit to neighboring Myanmar, also called Burma.
“One-third of children in Myanmar are chronically malnourished. Eight percent are acutely malnourished,” Morris said at a news conference in Bangkok.
There is a high rate of school dropouts and as many as 400,000 people are infected with HIV/AIDS, he said. The country’s population is estimated at 54 million.
“This is absolutely tragic, serious and unacceptable … and it should concern leaders of this country greatly that their future is at risk,” he said. “The humanitarian price that the individual person pays for the lack of nutrition and education is enormous.”
Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962, is one of Asia’s poorest and most tightly controlled countries.
The current ruling junta came to power in 1988, after crushing a
pro-democracy uprising. It called elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power when the pro-democracy National League for Democracy, or NLD, won by a landslide.
Morris said he asked Myanmar Prime Minister Soe Win to cut the 10 percent tax it charges the WFP for rice bought in the country. Myanmar calls it an “export tax,” even though the WFP distributes all of it domestically.
He said that Myanmar’s complicated, costly bureaucracy has made it hard to move rice around the country for distribution. As a result, WFP could distribute in western Myanmar only 450 of the 5,500 tons of rice it purchased.
Myanmar has a food surplus, but needs to allow the free movement of food and people, and the development of infrastructure for production and distribution, Morris said.
Morris visited Myanmar’s northern ethnic Wa territory – controlled by guerrillas notorious as major drug producers – to inspect WFP’s drive to help wean farmers off growing opium poppies.
He said he also met and discussed international assistance to Myanmar with senior members of the NLD, whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest since May 2003.
Except for some humanitarian assistance, the NLD opposes most foreign aid to Myanmar, which it says helps sustain the military government.