Myanmar lockdown: Aid trapped in the middle

While the number of Covid-19 cases are on the rise and medical capacity often fail to respond, humanitarian needs are soaring. Aid is there, but delivery is stuck. A nationwide curfew keeps all at home and prevents DRC and fellow NGOs from reaching desperate people waiting for help.

Streets are empty in Yangon, the capitol of Myanmar, since a stay-home order was imposed by the government in late September 2020 due to Covid-19. The pandemic has hit the Asian country hard, not only with an increase in new cases as reported by Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports, but also due to the fact that large parts of the population is vulnerable and relying on international aid and protection.  

Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has been operational and on the spot in Myanmar since 2009, when the cyclone Nargis caused a natural disaster. While a vast number of humanitarian aid organisations is now in place and ready to support the situation due to Covid-19, access is the biggest hurdle,  in Yangon and beyond, not least in vast rural and isolated areas. 

Covid-19 local and global facts 

Locally transmitted cases reportedly continue to rise in the Yangon Region and Rakhine State, with up to 5,810 and 343 new cases, respectively, reported by government sources between 29 September and 5 October 2020 (MoHS). A total of 1,790 locally transmitted cases have been reported in all 17 townships in Rakhine between 16 August and 5 October. Countrywide, a total of 18,781 cases with 444 fatalities and 5,548 recoveries have been confirmed. 

As of 6 October 2020, WHO reported 35,274,993 confirmed cases and over one million deaths, with cases confirmed across 216 countries/areas or territories (WHO Global Dashboard).  

According to WHO, Denmark, the home country of DRC, has so far seen more fatalities due to Covid-19 according to Covid-19. But in Myanmar, reporting sources and the capacity to respond is limited, and furthermore aid is no longer readily available. 

DRC and NGO staff waiting at home 

DRC’s international and national employees are among the many people stuck at home and with no ability to reach the target groups and country-men in need.  

One of them is Sai Ye'Myint Soe (37), or Ko Ye meaning ‘Brave Brother’ as he is known among friends, who is a father of two daughters and a son, and has been working for DRC since 2018 in Lashio in Northern Shan State. This is also where he is from, and where needs for humanitarian aid are extensive. People here are trapped in areas affected by armed conflict and unrest, and as a result causing a deepening poverty, isolation and dependence on external aid.   

DRC is present in this area with capacity to support conflict-affected women, children and men who are victims of violence or otherwise vulnerable and in need of protection and aid to survive.  

With the emergence of Covid-19, DRC has previously provided assistance to village quarantine centers and facilities run by the government where needs for sleeping mats, blankets and mosquito nets are growing. This has been greatly appreciated, tells Sai Ye’Myint Soe, as resources there stretched or simply not existing.  

No access  

Since Covid-19 has been on the rise in Myanmar, many areas are now suffering from the lack of access to emergency aid from humanitarian aid organisations like DRC. Lockdowns instituted by national authorities have shut the door for international aid.  

Most aid right now is therefore on hold or remotely managed, and largely limited to life-saving assistance for example through small cash grants distributes to the very vulnerable. These grants are essential and can save lives. They are used for buying transport of mine-victims to and from the hospital, to support families who are without income or have lost their breadwinner, to buy food for daily survival, or to get medicine where this is available.   

Aid is on hold, but ready 

Waiting right outside areas of ongoing fighting to regain access and permission from the authorities to work, DRC is currently forced to only support remotely. This is severely hampering much of the work usually carried out with the aim to build local capacity through vocational trainings and help setting up small businesses.   

Being allowed back into the areas with the most alarming needs, will enable DRC to again support people in need through improving their livelihoods through trainings that can provide some little income that makes the family independent and resilient.   

DRC is also standing by to again be providing mine-risk education, and create important awareness of how communities and individuals can protect themselves and each other from risks and actual violence.   

DRC’s ‘Brave Brother’, deputy programme manager Sai Ye’Myint Soe in Lashio and with him many other aid workers there, are eager to get back to areas where they know that entire communities are desperately waiting for support.  

The aid workers are still there, waiting to respond. And aid is there, ready to be delivered.