U.N. food agency faces $40 million Myanmar funding shortfall to mid-2016

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 600,000 people in Myanmar need food assistance due to natural disasters, violence and conflict, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Wednesday, announcing a $40 million funding shortfall for food aid through June 2016. Some 13 million people, 26 percent of Myanmar's population, live below the poverty line, while 35 percent of children are malnourished and not growing properly, WFP said in a statement. Floods and landslides struck 12 of the country's 14 states and regions in June and July, killing 172 people and temporarily displacing more than 1.7 million. WFP said 440,000 people affected by the floods and landslides need food assistance. Communal violence in Rakhine state in recent years as well as fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels in Kachin and Shan states have displaced 172,000 people who also need food aid, it said. The agency aims to provide food and cash assistance to 2.9 million food-insecure people in Myanmar, and help internally displaced people return home or resettle in areas with better prospects for work and life. "WFP's engagement in Myanmar must now be driven by the overarching goal of assisting the country achieve zero hunger by 2030," Dom Scalpelli, the head of WFP in Myanmar, said in the statement. Myanmar was ruled for decades by the military. Elections were held in November, and the first democratically elected government since the 1960s is preparing to take office next year. The government has fought ethnic groups in its borderlands off and on for decades, causing massive displacement within the country and forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge across the border in Thailand. In October the government signed a ceasefire with eight armed ethnic groups, but seven of the 15 groups invited declined to sign. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said fighting since October between government forces and ethnic rebels has displaced 6,000 people in Shan state, though Shan rights groups put the number higher, at more than 10,000. In Kachin state, fighting between the government and ethnic rebels has displaced 1,200 people, OCHA said. (Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)