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Food Security and displacement in Burma

Individual Documents

Date of publication: 28 October 2010
Description/subject: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: "Regardless of the outcomes in Burma’s first elections for twenty years, the incoming government and international community cannot afford to ignore the deteriorating socio-economic conditions that plague the country any longer. The urgency is particularly acute in eastern Burma where protracted armed conflict and restrictions on humanitarian access have exacerbated the legacy of chronic poverty. The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has been collaborating with ethnic community-based organisations to document conditions in eastern Burma since 2002. This year, apart from updating information about displacement across six states and divisions, poverty assessments were also conducted in six townships. The poverty assessment was developed in consultation with humanitarian agencies based in Rangoon/Yangon as a contribution towards developing a credible, nation-wide database of indicators for household vulnerability. Government statistics disguise the extent of suffering and suggest relatively low levels of poverty in eastern Burma. This is because surveys are not allowed in some areas and pockets of extreme vulnerability are not taken into account when data is only disaggregated to the State or Division level. However, the indicators for vulnerability in eastern Burma documented in this report are comparable to the worst findings that international agencies have reported anywhere in Burma. Impoverishment is particularly severe in the rural areas of Kyaukgyi Township where half of the sample population reported displacement, forced labour and restrictions on movement had caused shocks to livelihoods during the previous six months. Analysis of the demographic structure in eastern Burma reveals high birth and child mortality rates as well as low life expectancy. There is a high degree of dependency on a relatively small working age population, and almost half of the population surveyed has no proof of citizenship. These characteristics are more comparable to the vulnerability experienced in northern Rakhine State than national averages. Offi cial fi gures suggest that poverty rates in Kachin State and Magway Division are amongst the worst in the nation. However, this survey indicates that basic living conditions, such as access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities, are generally worse in eastern Burma. The lack of durable shelter resulting from protracted conflict in eastern Burma resembles conditions in the Irrawaddy Delta a year after Cyclone Nargis wreaked havoc. Government statistics claim the average farming household owns 6 acres of land, but this survey found 64% of rural households have access to less than two acres of land and only 13% have access to irrigated fields. These seemingly contradictory fi gures reflect large inequalities with regards to land tenure in Burma. The labour intensive nature of agriculture is indicated by over 80% of farmers lacking farm machinery and being dependent on simple tools. Official data suggests that northern Shan State suffers from food insecurity more than most regions in Burma, but this survey fi nds the situation in south eastern Burma is comparable. Three quarters of the households in south eastern Burma had experienced food shortages during the month prior to being surveyed, and a similar proportion were preparing for a gap in rice supply of at least three months prior to the next harvest. Food consumption analysis identifi es that 60% of households surveyed have an inadequate diet, while acute malnutrition rates amongst children suggest a serious public health problem. While numerous indicators reflect severe vulnerabilities in eastern Burma, there is also evidence that subsistence livelihoods are highly resilient. The main source of staple food for three quarters of households is either their own rice crop or social networks, while access to cash income is more limited than elsewhere in the country. The low dependence on trade and high degrees of self reliance are also reflected by a relatively low proportion of household expenditures on food. This would generally be considered an indicator for lower levels of poverty, but comparisons are distorted because of increased restrictions on movement and reduced access to markets in the conflict-affected areas of eastern Burma. Impoverishment in eastern Burma is a bi-product of militarisation and a key factor contributing to displacement. During the past year, SPDC attempts to pressure ethnic ceasefi re groups to transform into Border Guard Forces have increased insecurity in areas which were relatively stable. The main ceasefi re parties have resisted the pressure and reiterated calls for a review of the 2008 Constitution and political dialogue to promote national reconciliation. In response, the Burmese Army has forcibly conscripted and extorted villagers to form ethnic militia units to act as proxy forces in case ceasefire agreements collapse. This year’s survey estimates at least 73,000 people were forced to leave their homes in eastern Burma between August 2009 and July 2010. The highest rates of displacement were reported in northern Karen areas, where over 26,000 villagers were forced from their homes by Burmese Army artillery attacks against civilians and by forced eviction orders. More than 8,000 villagers in southern Mon areas also fl ed from their homes as a result of instability and conflict induced by the Border Guard Force conversion orders and by forced relocations. TBBC’s partner agencies have documented the destruction, forced relocation or abandonment of more than 3,600 civilian settlements in eastern Burma since 1996, including 113 villages and hiding sites during the past year. Coercive practices by armed forces have also undermined livelihoods and contributed to at least 446,000 people being internally displaced in the rural areas of eastern Burma at the end of 2010. As this conservative estimate only covers 37 townships and discounts urban areas, it is likely that well over half a million internally displaced persons remain in eastern Burma. Military appointees and proxy party representatives are expected to control government after the elections, and there is no indication that political indifference to human suffering will change in the immediate future. The political challenge remains to press and engage with the national authorities for a genuine process of national reconciliation and the rights-based rule of law. However, there is an urgent need to scale up poverty alleviation and humanitarian relief efforts and there are capacities within Rangoon and border-based aid agencies to absorb additional funding immediately. The humanitarian and development challenge is to ensure that aid funding and programming are based on needs and vulnerabilities rather than political agendas."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC)
Format/size: pdf (8MB); zip (7.1MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.tbbc.org/idps/report-2010-idp-en.zip
http://www.tbbc.org/announcements/2010-10-28-media-release-idp-survey.pdf (press release)
Date of entry/update: 28 October 2010

Title: Starving them out: Food shortages and exploitative abuse in Papun District
Date of publication: 15 October 2009
Description/subject: "As the 2009 rainy season draws to a close, displaced villagers in northern Papun District's Lu Thaw Township face little prospect of harvesting sufficient paddy to support them over the next year. After four straight agricultural cycles disrupted by Burma Army patrols, which continue to shoot villagers on sight and enforce travel and trade restrictions designed to limit sale of food to villagers in hiding, villagers in northern Papun face food shortages more severe than anything to hit the area since the Burma Army began attempts to consolidate control of the region in 1997. Consequently, the international donor community should immediately provide emergency support to aid groups that can access IDP areas in Lu Thaw Township. In southern Papun, meanwhile, villagers report ongoing abuses and increased activity by the SPDC and DKBA in Dwe Loh and Bu Thoh townships. In these areas, villagers report abuses including movement restrictions, forced labour, looting, increased placement of landmines in civilian areas, summary executions and other forms of arbitrary abuse. This report documents abuses occurring between May and October 2009..."
Language: English, Karen
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG #2009-F18)
Format/size: html, pdf (861 KB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg09f18.pdf
Date of entry/update: 24 October 2009

Title: Patrols, movement restrictions and forced labour in Toungoo District
Date of publication: 28 September 2009
Description/subject: "This report documents the situation for villagers in Toungoo District, both in areas under SPDC control and in areas contested by the KNLA and home to villagers actively evading SDPC control. For villagers in the former, movement restrictions, forced labour and demands for material support continue unabated, and continue to undermine their attempts to address basic needs. Villagers in hiding, meanwhile, report that the threat of Burma Army patrols, though slightly reduced, remains sufficient to disrupt farming and undermine food security. This report includes incidents occurring from January to August 2009..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Reports (KHRG #2009-F16)
Format/size: html, pdf (474K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/KHRG-2009-09-28-patrols_movements_restrictions-en-red.pdf
Date of entry/update: 28 October 2009

Title: Abuse, Poverty and Migration: Investigating migrants' motivations to leave home in Burma
Date of publication: 10 July 2009
Description/subject: "International reporting of the large-scale migration of those leaving Burma in search of work abroad has highlighted the perils for migrant during travel and in host countries. However, there has been a lack of research in the root causes of this migration. Identifying the root causes of migration has important implications for the assistance and protection of these migrants. Drawing on over 150 interviews with villagers in rural Burma and those from Burma who have sought employment abroad, this report identifies the exploitative abuse underpinning poverty and livelihoods vulnerability in Burma which, in turn, are major factors motivating individuals to leave home and seek work abroad..." _Thailand-based interviewees explained to KHRG how exploitative abuses increased poverty, livelihoods vulnerability and food insecurity for themselves and their communities in Burma. These issues were in turn cited as central push factors compelling them to leave their homes and search for work abroad. In some cases, interviewees explained that the harmful effects of exploitative abuse were compounded by environmental and economic factors such as flood and drought and limited access to decent wage labour.[17] While the individuals interviewed by KHRG in Thailand would normally be classified as 'economic migrants', the factors which they cited as motivating their choice to migrate make it clear that SPDC abuse made it difficult for them to survive in their home areas. Hence, these people decided to become migrants not simply because they were lured to Thailand by economic incentives, but because they found it impossible to survive at home in Burma. Clearly, the distinction between push and pull factors is blurred in the case of Burmese migrants. The concept of pull factors for migrants is further complicated because migrants are not merely seeking better jobs abroad, but are instead pulled to places like Thailand and Malaysia in order to access protection. For refugees and IDPs, protection is a service that is often provided by government bodies, UN agencies and international NGOs. For refugees in particular, protection is often primarily understood to mean legal protection against refoulement - defined as the expulsion of a person to a place where they would face persecution. Beyond legal protection against refoulement, aid agencies have implemented specific forms of rights-based assistance, such as gender-based violence programmes, as part of their protection mandates. However, for migrants from Burma the act of leaving home is overwhelmingly a self-initiated protection strategy through which individuals can ensure their and their families' basic survival in the face of persistent exploitative and other abuse in their home areas. This broader understanding of protection goes beyond legal protection against refoulement and the top-down delivery of rights-based assistance by aid agencies. It involves actions taken by individuals on their own accord to lessen or avoid abuse and its harmful effects at home.[18] KHRG has chosen to use the term self-initiated protection strategy, rather than a more generic concept like 'survival strategy', in order to highlight the political agency of those who choose such migration. By seeing this protection in political terms, one can better understand both the abusive underpinnings of migration from Burma as well as the relevance of such migration to the protection mandates of governments, UN agencies and international NGOs currently providing support to conventional refugee populations. Understanding protection in this way presents opportunities for external support for the many self-initiated protection strategies (including efforts to secure employment without exploitation, support dependent family members, enrol children in school and avoid arrest, extortion and deportation) which migrant workers regularly use._
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Regional & Thematic Reports (KHRG #2009-03)
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 11 November 2009

Title: IDP conditions and the rape of a young girl in Papun District
Date of publication: 11 April 2009
Description/subject: "This report describes SPDC operations in and around internally displaced person hiding sites in Lu Thaw Township, Papun District. Villagers in this area continue to face constant physical threats and food insecurity caused by SPDC patrols-indeed, residents have been prevented from consistently accessing their farm fields for so long that they now face a dire food crisis. This report also details the rape of a 13-year-old girl by an SPDC soldier in Dweh Loh Township and the local military commander's attempt to cover up the incident. This report examines cases of SPDC abuse from December 2008 to March 2009..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Reports (KHRG #2009-F8)
Format/size: html, pdf (881 KB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg09f8.pdf
Date of entry/update: 31 October 2009

Title: Attacks, killings and the food crisis in Papun District
Date of publication: 04 February 2009
Description/subject: "SPDC abuses against civilians continue in northern Karen State, especially in the Lu Thaw and Dweh Loh townships of Papun District. Abuses have been particularly harsh in Lu Thaw, most of which has been designated a "black area" by the SPDC and so subject to constant attacks by Burma Army forces. Villagers who decide to remain in their home areas are often forced to live in hiding and not only face constant threats of violence by the SPDC, but also a worsening food crisis due to the SPDC's disruption of planting cycles. This report covers events in Papun District from August 2008 to January 2009..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Reports (KHRG #2009-F2)
Format/size: html, pdf (578 KB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg09f2.pdf
Date of entry/update: 31 October 2009

Title: Rural development and displacement: SPDC abuses in Toungoo District
Date of publication: 13 January 2009
Description/subject: "The SPDC has continued to militarise larger and larger swaths of Toungoo District under the false banner of 'development', subjecting local villagers to forced labour and extortion and forcing others to flee into hiding. Life is hard for villagers both under and outside of SPDC control: villagers living within SPDC-controlled areas are often forced to work for the SPDC rather than focus on their own livelihoods while villagers in hiding continue to struggle with a shortage of food. Ultimately, many residents of Toungoo face a mounting food crisis that is a direct result of SPDC policy. This report discusses incidents that occurred between May and September 2008..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Reports (KHRG #2009-F1)
Format/size: html, pdf (850 KB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg09f1.pdf
Date of entry/update: 31 October 2009

Title: Attacks, forced labour and restrictions in Toungoo District
Date of publication: 01 July 2008
Description/subject: "While the rainy season is now underway in Karen state, Burma Army soldiers are continuing with military operations against civilian communities in Toungoo District. Local villagers in this area have had to leave their homes and agricultural land in order to escape into the jungle and avoid Burma Army attacks. These displaced villagers have, in turn, encountered health problems and food shortages, as medical supplies and services are restricted and regular relocation means any food supplies are limited to what can be carried on the villagers' backs alone. Yet these displaced communities have persisted in their effort to maintain their lives and dignity while on the run; building new shelters in hiding and seeking to address their livelihood and social needs despite constraints. Those remaining under military control, by contrast, face regular demands for forced labour, as well as other forms of extortion and arbitrary 'taxation'. This report examines military attacks, forced labour and movement restrictions and their implications in Toungoo District between March and June 2008..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Reports (KHRG #2008-F7)
Format/size: html, pdf (880 KB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg08f7.pdf
Date of entry/update: 01 November 2009

Title: The role of coercive measures in forced migration/internal displacement in Burma/Myanmar
Date of publication: 17 March 2008
Description/subject: Conclusion: "Most relevant reports and surveys I have been able to access state essentially that people from all parts of Burma leave home either in obedience to a direct relocation order from the military or civil authorities or as a result of a process whereby coercive measures imposed by the authorities play a major role in forcing down household incomes to the point where the family cannot survive. At this point, leaving home may seem to be the only option. These factors, which include direct forced relocation, forced labour, extortion and land confiscation, operate in, are affected by and exacerbate a situation of widespread poverty, rising inflation and declining real incomes. In other words, people leave home due to a combination of coercive and economic factors. One has to consider the whole process leading to displacement rather than a single, immediate cause. Where coercive measures, as described in this article, are involved, the resulting population movement falls under the Guiding Principles even if the situation that actually triggers movement, frequently food insecurity, may also be described in economic terms."
Author/creator: Andrew Bosson
Language: English
Source/publisher: Andrew Bosson
Format/size: pdf (47K)
Date of entry/update: 17 March 2008

Title: Increased roads, army camps and attacks on rural communities in Papun District
Date of publication: 16 November 2007
Description/subject: "Having initially begun construction a decade ago, the SPDC has this year completed the Papun section of a roadway which extends northwards from the east-west Kyauk Kyi to Saw Hta vehicle road towards the SPDC army camp at Buh Hsa Kee in southern Toungoo District. While still incomplete on the Toungoo side of the border the Papun section effectively cuts the northern half of Lu Thaw township into two east-west sections and forms a dangerous and difficult to cross barrier for those civilians fleeing from ongoing military attacks against their communities. Nevertheless villagers in Lu Thaw and other areas of Papun continue to evade SPDC forces and the district currently has the highest number of internally displaced people in hiding out of any area of eastern Burma. Notwithstanding the creative and courageous strategies which these villagers have adopted in order to avoid the army columns which continue to hunt them down, they remain in a precarious situation; one which has only heightened in its severity with the completion of the Papun section of the north-south vehicle road and the upgrading of other roadways further south..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Field Report (KHRG #2007-F10)
Format/size: html, pdf (262K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/sites/default/files/khrg07f10.pdf
Date of entry/update: 07 November 2009

Title: Forced migration/internal displacement in Burma - with an emphasis on government-controlled areas
Date of publication: May 2007
Description/subject: This report is a preliminary exploration of forced migration/internal displacement in Burma/Myanmar in two main areas. The first is the status in terms of international standards, specifically those embodied in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, of the people who leave home not because of conflict or relocation orders, but as a result of a range of coercive measures which drive down incomes to the point that the household economy collapses and people have no choice but to leave home. Some analysts describe this form of population movement as "economic migration" since it has an economic dimension. The present report, however, looks at the coercive nature of the pressures which contribute to the collapse of the household economy and argues that their compulsory and irresistible nature brings this kind of population movement squarely into the field of forced migration, even though the immediate cause of leaving home may also be described in economic terms... The second area is geographic. The report looks at those parts of Burma not covered by the IDP Surveys of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, which concentrate on the conflict and post-conflict areas of Eastern Burma. It hardly touches on conflict-induced displacement since most parts of Burma covered in these pages, including the major cities, are government-controlled, and there is little overt military conflict in these States and Divisions. Within these parts of the country, the report looks at the coercive measures referred to above. It also carries reports of direct relocation by government agents through which whole rural and urban communities are removed from their homes and either ordered to go to specific places, or else left to their own devices. The report annexes contain more than 500 pages of documentation on forced displacement and causes of displacement in Arakan, Chin, Kachin and Eastern and Northern Shan States as well as Irrawaddy, Magwe, Mandalay, West Pegu, Rangoon and Sagaing Divisions. It also has a section on displacement within urban and peri-urban areas.
Author/creator: Andrew Bosson
Language: English
Source/publisher: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)
Format/size: pdf (717K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpDocuments)/D057F0FCA432F4B5C12572D7002B147B/$file/Burma_report_mai07.pdf
Date of entry/update: 15 May 2007

Date of publication: October 2003
Description/subject: TABLE OF CONTENTS:- 1. Food Security from a Rights-based Perspective; 2. Local Observations from the States and Divisions of Eastern Burma:- 2.1 Tenasserim Division (Committee for Internally Displaced Karen Persons); 2.2 Mon State (Mon Relief and Development Committee); 2.3 Karen State (Karen Human Rights Group) 2.4 Eastern Pegu Division (Karen Office of Relief and Development); 2.5 Karenni State (Karenni Social Welfare Committee); 2.6 Shan State (Shan Human Rights Foundation)... 3. Local Observations of Issues Related to Food Security:- 3.1 Crop Destruction as a Weapon of War (Committee for Internally Displaced Karen Persons); 3.2 Border Areas Development (Karen Environmental & Social Action Network); 3.3 Agricultural Management(Burma Issues); 3.4 Land Management (Independent Mon News Agency) 3.5 Nutritional Impact of Internal Displacement (Backpack Health Workers Team); 3.6 Gender-based Perspectives (Karen Women’s Organisation)... 4. Field Surveys on Internal Displacement and Food Security... Appendix 1 : Burma’s International Obligations and Commitments... Appendix 2 : Burma’s National Legal Framework... Appendix 3 : Acronyms, Measurements and Currencies.... "...Linkages between militarisation and food scarcity in Burma were established by civilian testimonies from ten out of the fourteen states and divisions to a People’s Tribunal in the late 1990s. Since then the scale of internal displacement has dramatically increased, with the population in eastern Burma during 2002 having been estimated at 633,000 people, of whom approximately 268,000 were in hiding and the rest were interned in relocation sites. This report attempts to complement these earlier assessments by appraising the current relationship between food security and internal displacement in eastern Burma. It is hoped that these contributions will, amongst other impacts, assist the Asian Human Rights Commission’s Permanent People’s Tribunal to promote the right to food and rule of law in Burma... Personal observations and field surveys by community-based organisations in eastern Burma suggest that a vicious cycle linking the deprivation of food security with internal displacement has intensified. Compulsory paddy procurement, land confiscation, the Border Areas Development program and spiraling inflation have induced displacement of the rural poor away from state-controlled areas. In war zones, however, the state continues to destroy and confiscate food supplies in order to force displaced villagers back into state-controlled areas. An image emerges of a highly vulnerable and frequently displaced rural population, who remain extremely resilient in order to survive based on their local knowledge and social networks. Findings from the observations and field surveys include the following:..."
Language: English
Source/publisher: Burmese Border Consortium
Format/size: pdf (804K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/BBC-Reclaiming_the_Right_to_Rice.pdf
Date of entry/update: 07 November 2003

Title: Starving Them Out: Forced Relocations, Killings and the Systematic Starvation of Villagers in Dooplaya District
Date of publication: 31 March 2000
Description/subject: "This report consists of an Introduction and Executive Summary, followed by a detailed analysis of the situation supported by quotes from interviews and excerpts from SPDC order documents sent to villages in the region. As mentioned above, an Annex to this report containing the full text of the remaining interviews can be seen by following the link from the table of contents or from KHRG upon approved request..." Forced Relocations, Killings and the Systematic Starvation of Villagers in Dooplaya District
Language: English
Source/publisher: Karen Human Rights Group Regional & Thematic Reports (KHRG #2000-02)
Format/size: html
Alternate URLs: http://www.khrg.org/khrg2000/khrg0002.html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003