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Photo essay: Close-up on Myanmar's growing hunger

'It's for my family': Parents struggle to keep children fed amid country's multiple crises

Ko Min, left, and his wife Ma Moe. Together with their two young children, they live in this poor district on the outskirts of Yangon. Ko Min was a bricklayer but lost his job when construction sites closed due to recent civil unrest. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)

YANGON -- Hunger is rising across Myanmar amid multiple crises -- job losses, spiraling food and fuel prices, civil unrest, violence and displacement. More and more families, particularly those living in impoverished townships and periurban areas, are struggling to put even the most basic food on the table. Parents are resorting to coping strategies, such as borrowing money or taking up high-risk jobs, just to feed their children and keep themselves afloat.

In April, the World Food Program estimated that 3.4 million additional people could face hunger in the coming months, on top of the 2.8 million people who were already unable to meet their food needs before 2021. In response, a new, large-scale urban food operation was launched in May, through which WFP aims to reach at least 2 million people in Myanmar's biggest cities, including Yangon and Mandalay. Among the neediest are mothers, children, people with disabilities and the elderly. The United Nations agency is also planning to help those newly displaced by violence in other regions and sustain support for 360,000 internally displaced and otherwise vulnerable people in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states affected by conflict in previous years.

WFP's lifesaving work, however, faces serious funding constraints, with over 70% of its funding needs for the coming six months still unmet.

This photo essay provides glimpses of a young family's life, living in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Yangon. Like many parents, Ko Min and Ma Moe are putting their children first -- borrowing money, eating less, taking on odd jobs -- so their children can eat. While they are struggling to do what they can, the country is gripped by yet another crisis -- a new and virulent wave of COVID-19 linked to the Delta variant that will further exacerbate hunger among the poorest and most vulnerable.


Without a job, Ko Min has to do whatever he can, such as picking and selling water spinach, to feed his family. "When I was a bricklayer, I had work every day. We could eat what we wanted and even give the children snacks. Now, there is no work. I have no choice but to pick water spinach -- I have never done this in the past," he says. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


"When we had jobs, we ate fish every day, and also meat. Now, it has been a long time since we last had any meat or fish," says Ma Moe, here with her son. "My son also likes omelet with fried rice. But sometimes, we can't afford eggs and all I can give him is rice." (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


Ko Min, center, queues to receive WFP food rations provided to struggling families like his. Compared with six months ago, rice prices have risen by 13%, and cooking oil by 37%, according to WFP's market monitoring, making basic foods increasingly unaffordable for families who have lost jobs and income. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


Ma Moe, Ko Min and their two young children have lunch. Today's meal consists of rice, given by WFP, water spinach that Ko Min picked earlier, and omelet. "If we don't have anything, we pour cooking oil and salt into the rice and feed the children like that," says Ko Min. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


In slumlike settlements like this, families are particularly hard hit. In response, they are resorting to negative coping strategies such as borrowing money and taking on high-risk jobs. In one WFP field assessment in May, 89% of respondents in informal settlements in Yangon said they had to borrow money in order to buy food. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


When there is not enough food to go around, Ma Moe and her husband eat less or skip meals so that their children can have more to eat. "We parents can live without food, but children can't," says Ma Moe. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


"Never before have I picked watergrass to eat or done odd jobs for others. But I am not shy to do these things anymore. It's for my family," says Ko Min, watching as his children enjoy a meal. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)


Ko Min carries food rations home from a WFP distribution site. By the end of July, nearly 650,000 people had received food assistance under WFP's urban food response -- a new operation that the agency started in May in response to rising hunger in Myanmar's big cities. But many more urgently need help, including people newly displaced by violence. WFP recently announced its lifesaving work is facing a 70% funding shortfall for coming months. (©WFP Myanmar/2021)

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