In 2021, the people of Myanmar faced an unprecedented political, socioeconomic, human rights and humanitarian crisis with needs escalating dramatically since the military takeover on 1 February and a severe COVID-19 third wave.
The expansion of armed conflict into new areas and the formation of new armed elements drove increased displacement, as well as exacerbating existing or generating new protection and assistance needs. The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Myanmar rose substantially in 2021. According to the UN, of the 690,000 IDPs in Myanmar as of 27 December 2021, an estimated 52 per cent were women and 34 per cent were children. Of these, 320,000 were displaced by armed conflict and unrest since 1 February 2021. The majority of the new displacement occurred in Myanmar's northwest and southeast, as well as in Kachin and Shan states. IDPs have been forced to live in terrible conditions – some in camps, some in host communities and others in the jungle, without adequate food, shelter, sanitation, and medical care. In 2021, local organizations and partners provided basic assistance to previously and newly displaced people and host communities, where possible. However, IDPs and host communities continued to face shortages of food and livelihoods support, clothes, relief items and COVID-19 preventative supplies, largely due to the fighting, as well as restrictions on access, movement and transport. The new IDPS are in addition to the hundreds of thousands of people already living in protracted displacement in Kachin, Kayin, Rakhine and Shan states prior to February 2021.
The military takeover and the large-scale Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that followed heavily impacted the economy and the already fragile public service sector in 2021, further restricting people’s access to essential basic social services such as education and health. The crisis caused severe interruptions to basic health services, risking long-term consequences for the health and well-being of Myanmar’s population. The health sector has been under enormous strain due to both the CDM and COVID-19. The CDM resulted in severe reductions in the available public health workforce with many health staff walking out of public facilities in protest, at a time when health services were needed most due to the pandemic. The impact of staffing interruptions was compounded by repeated attacks on healthcare and the occupation of health facilities by parties to the conflict, further reducing the options available to affected people and resulting in unmet needs. Significant portions of the community were also unwilling to seek care through public services where they were provided by the de facto authorities. While NGOs, Ethnic Health Organizations (EAOs) and private health services tried to cover the gap, they were not able to fully compensate for the breakdown of public services. Access to education was also heavily disrupted. Due to the combined effects of COVID-19 and the military takeover, nearly all of Myanmar’s 12 million school aged children missed out on almost two years of education in 2020 and 2021.
These inter-related risks also exacerbated pre-existing needs among already vulnerable women, girls, men and boys, including stateless Rohingya people and people living in protracted displacement, predominantly in the country’s northeast and southwest. The crisis deepened the needs of these population groups because of reduced livelihoods opportunities, aggravated by the increase in prices of basic goods. At the same time, access constraints due to COVID and the current political crisis undermined the quality and predictability of humanitarian assistance delivered to extremely aid-dependent communities. This was especially true of assistance to stateless Rohingya people in Rakhine, who are among the country’s most vulnerable people. As with new conflict areas, access to people with pre-existing needs in rural locations was particularly affected, leaving considerable gaps and unmet needs.
According to UNDP, the 2021 economic and political turmoil has driven almost half of the population (25 million people) into poverty in 2022, wiping out the impressive gains made since 2005. Increasing numbers of vulnerable women, girls, men and boys exhausted their coping capacity and slipped into humanitarian need for the first time. Price hikes, COVID-19 movement restrictions and ongoing insecurity forced the most marginalized and vulnerable people to resort to emergency coping strategies in order to buy food and other essential supplies, often negatively impacting their safety, well-being and dignity. The sale of productive assets was especially worrying as this is very difficult to reverse. In some states and regions, prices for crucial household commodities rose significantly, making some food items increasingly unaffordable. Farming incomes were affected by lower wholesale prices for some crops, higher input prices, lower farm gate prices and limited access to credit, affecting agricultural livelihoods and food supplies. COVID-19 related border closures reduced agricultural export earnings and made essential farming inputs less available and more expensive.
Monsoon floods in July and August 2021 affected more than 120,000 people across various parts of the country, resulting in crop losses and further contributing to food insecurity.
The compounding crises of 2021 profoundly and disproportionally impacted women and girls, as well as people with disability in Myanmar. The impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and the worsening security situation resulted in a continued heavy burden of care for women looking after sick family members and children who were unable to return to school. This impacted women's availability to engage in paid work and further strained households financially. Women-headed households and women previously employed in sectors such as the garment industry were particularly affected. Women health workers involved in the CDM and those previously employed at health facilities that were targeted, occupied or shut down also faced negative financial impacts. People with disabilities faced additional safety and security risks. They also regularly faced challenges in accessing basic services as they were unable to reach service points due to their impairment and stressed communities were unable to provide the same level of support