BURMA: WFP says that government of Burma blocking food distribution

Dear friends,

The head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Burma has stated that his organization is struggling to deliver food supplies to areas that are seriously affected by hunger and possible starvation, because of government delays. Although the WFP has been working in Burma since 1994, supporting the food needs of around 300,000 people—most of whom were forcibly repatriated from refugee camps in Bangladesh—the government has reportedly delayed the issuing of permits to distribute food in affected areas in recent months. Although no reason has been given for the delays, it is believed that the government is deliberately restricting the supply of food in the western region of Burma for strategic reasons.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges you to write to the government of Burma and call for the WFP and other relief organizations to be given free access to areas affected by hunger and starvation in the country. In particular, the authorities must cease to use food supply as a weapon for social and political control. 

Urgent Appeals Desk—Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


Location: Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, Arakan state, western Burma
Persons affected: 300,000 recipients of WFP assistance, most ethnic Rohingyas repatriated from Bangladesh

According to a September 23 report in The Irrawaddy online news service, the head of the World Food Programme in Burma, Bhim Udas, has said that in recent months the government authorities have delayed granting of permits for distribution of food in areas where the WFP has been working for over a decade. Udas reportedly said that the WFP had to wait for three months to get permits to Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, where it is distributing food for around 300,000 people. He also said that the government was deliberately restricting supply of food to the region.

The comments from the WFP came after a Royingya nationalist organization claimed that people in the affected areas are facing starvation. Although the WFP country director said that he had not seen starving persons himself, other reports have said that people in the area are facing famine.


The AHRC has for many years drawn attention to the strategic use of food supply by the military government in Burma. In October 1999 it published the comprehensive Voice of the Hungry Nation report of the People’s Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma, which revealed for the first time the full extent of the links between the military governance and hunger in Burma. In particular, it drew attention to the use of food supply as a weapon of war and social as well as political control by the authorities.

Since the time that the AHRC released the Voice of the Hungry Nation report, many other organizations working both inside and outside Burma have expressed similar concerns, as has the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food in his annual reports.

Most recently, after visiting Burma in July 2005, the executive director of the WFP, Jim Morris, also stated that the policies and practices of the military government there “make it very difficult of many of those at risk to merely subsist” (Myanmar must do more to help its hungry millions, says WFP). Morris said that the situation is “serious and getting worse” and that “the primary responsibility for making things better rests squarely with the government”.

While the relative inaccessibility of many parts of Burma, particularly the western regions, make it difficult to obtain more detailed or independent information, the fact that senior WFP officials are going on the record to complain about the military government affecting the work of their organization speaks to the seriousness of the food situation there.


Please write to the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Major General Sein Htwa to urge that the government of Burma not impede the work of the WFP or other relief organizations working in the country. Please note that for the purposes of this letter, the country should be referred to as Myanmar, rather than Burma, Arakan state as Rakhine state, and the capital Yangon.



To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear Maj-Gen. Sein Htwa Re: MYANMAR: Reports of potential famine and obstruction of WFP relief efforts in Rakhine State I am deeply disturbed by reports that your government is undermining the access of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to hungry people in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships of Rakhine state. According to the information that I have received, in recent months your ministry has delayed the granting of permits for distribution of food in these areas where the WFP has been working for over a decade and at present is distributing food to around 300,000 people. I have also heard reports that many persons are on the verge of starvation, and some may have already died due to hunger. It is shocking that while on the one hand your government is incapable of upholding the right to food of its populace on the other you also stand accused of obstructing the efforts of the preeminent global food relief organization to provide for the food needs of Myanmar residents. Your apparent inability to protect and fulfill the right to food is compounded by this lack of respect for their basic human right to food. My attention has been drawn to the findings of the People's Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma, which already in its 1999 'Voice of the Hungry Nation' report pointed to the strategic use of food supply by your government and military authorities. Since that time, many other well-informed persons and organizations have reached the same conclusion. In this regard I recall that most recently the executive director of the WFP, Mr. Jim Morris, also stated that the policies and practices of your government "make it very difficult of many of those at risk to merely subsist". He also stated that the situation in Myanmar is "serious and getting worse" and that "the primary responsibility for making things better rests squarely with the government". These remarks by a person of such authority lend credence to the recent reports of your ministry's obstruction of the WFP in Rakhine state, as well as those of a situation that may soon approach famine if not urgently addressed. Accordingly, I call upon you to speedily approve all outstanding requests by the WFP for access to the abovementioned areas of Myanmar, and to relax all restrictions on other relief agencies similarly, in order that the fundamental right to food of all people in your country is adequately met in accordance with international law. I would also urge you to introduce effective long-term measures to ensure food sufficiency among the affected populations so that it will not be necessary for the WFP and other similar agencies to continue their work in Myanmar for a longer period than strictly necessary. Above all else and without regard to other factors, food must not under any circumstances be used as part of a strategy for social, political or military control. Yours sincerely, --- PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO: Major-General Sein Htwa Minister Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement 53 Strand Road Yangon Myanmar Fax: +951 650 002 E-mail:  social-wel-myan@mptmail.net.mm PLEASE SEND COPIES TO: 1. General Soe Win Prime Minister Ministers' Office Botahtaung Township Yangon MYANMAR Fax: + 95 1 652 624 2. Maj-Gen Maung Oo Chairman Myanmar Human Rights Committee  c/o Ministry of Home Affairs  Corner of Saya San Street and No 1 Industrial Street,  Yankin Township  Yangon  MYANMAR Fax: +95 1 549 663 / 549 208 3. Mr. Bhim Udas Country Director  World Food Programme 6 Natmauk Road Yangon MYANMAR Tel: +95 1 542910 Fax: +95 1 544436 E-mail: WFP.Yangon@wfp.org 4. Mr. Anthony Banbury Regional Director World Food Programme Unit No. 2, 7th Floor Wave Place Building 55 Wireless Road Lumpini, Patumwan Bangkok 10330 THAILAND Fax: +66 2655 4413 Email: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org 5. Mr. Paulo Sergio Pineheiro Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar c/o Ms. Hulan Tsedev  Room 3-090 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais Wilson,  Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva SWITZERLAND Tel: + 41 22 9179 281 Fax: + 41 22 9179 018  E-mail: htsedev.hchr@unog.ch 6. Mr. Jean Ziegler Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran Room 4-066   Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais Wilson, Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva Switzerland  Fax: +41 22 9179010  Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch Thank you. Urgent Appeals Programme—Hunger Alert  Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Document Type : Hunger Alert Case
Document ID : HA-24-2005
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Right to food,