According to a Rakhine State minister, no one is facing famine in the state, especially not the ‘Bengalis’ in the north where international aid groups have raised alarm about dire food insecurity and severe malnutrition.
“An international NGO named Action Contre la Faim [Action Against Hunger] released a report which claimed that thousands of people were facing famine and it assisted the Bengalis from this area using humanitarianism as the pretext. We had to invite international diplomats to explain that no areas are facing famine in Rakhine State,” U Chan Thar, the Rakhine State Minister of Social Affairs, said at a July 31 press conference discussing the local government’s progress over the past year.
U Chan Thar said he explained to concerned diplomats that Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships have fertile soil for growing rice. Nearly all the farmlands in the Muslim-majority areas are owned and run by the Bengalis, he added.
Reports from international aid organizations have painted a dramatically different and worrisome picture of the food security situation in the area, however.
In July, the UN’s World Food Programme released an assessment indicating that over 80,000 children under the age of five in Maungdaw district will need year-long treatment to counter the effects of acute malnutrition brought about by an inadequate diet, infrequent meals and poor water and sanitation. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed households were found to have an inadequate diet, lacking in proteins and fat, and which had significantly worsened in the aftermath of the counter-insurgency campaign launched last October.
“Maungdaw district is among the most vulnerable and chronically food-insecure areas in Myanmar and the assessment confirmed a further deterioration of the food security situation,” the assessment said.
At the July 31 press Rakhine State conference, journalists also questioned the state government about the report this week that food aid from WFP had been found at an alleged terrorist camp in the Mayu mountain range.
“We can’t say whether the UN is supporting the terrorist groups just because supplies from the UN have been found in the terrorists’ hiding places,” said Colonel Phone Tint, Rakhine State’s newly appointed Minister of Security and Border Affairs. “They could have bought the supplies or taken them directly from the people that received the supplies.”
According to the State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee, security forces found WFP-supplied biscuits at abandoned camp while searching for a missing villager. It is unclear how security officials came to the conclusion that the camp belonged to insurgents as no weapons were reported among the materials discovered at the makeshift shelter.
State media reported that the government is investigating how the UN aid came to be at the camp.