Interview: A View From Kyaukphyu Amid Food Shortages and High Stakes

DMG recently spoke to a local man in Kyaukphyu, who asked for anonymity, discussing the socioeconomic hardships triggered by the junta’s far-reaching travel blockade.

By Admin 16 Dec 2023

A jetty as part of the Chinese project in Kyaukphyu town is pictured in July 2023.
A jetty as part of the Chinese project in Kyaukphyu town is pictured in July 2023.

DMG Newsroom
16 December 2023, Kyaukphyu

Local people in Arakan State face food shortages as Myanmar’s military regime has blocked off land and water routes to Arakan State and neighbouring Chin State’s Paletwa Township since renewed hostilities between the military and Arakan Army (AA) began on November 13. As Kyaukphyu is an island town, residents rely on other townships to buy food supplies.

DMG recently spoke to a local man in Kyaukphyu, who asked for anonymity, discussing the socioeconomic hardships triggered by the junta’s far-reaching travel blockade.

DMG: Please tell me about the current situation in Kyaukphyu.

Kyaukphyu man: Local people in Kyaukphyu now use bicycles due to fuel shortages. It has become difficult to buy almost all items in groceries. All shops including groceries in Kyaukphyu have been closed. There are only a few people on the streets when children are sent to school and when people go to the market, so usually there are no people’s activities in Kyaukphyu.

DMG: How bad is the food shortage situation in Kyaukphyu?

A man collapsed in front of a schoolteacher’s home due to malnutrition. Some of the rice he’d put in his longyi was scattered on the ground. When the teacher asked about helping him, he said that he had received two tins of rice from a relative. He hadn’t eaten rice in a long time, because he has had to prioritise his children. He hadn’t eaten rice for two or three days.

The teacher gave him some rice she had. It is an anecdote that can prove how much people are starving in Kyaukphyu. There are many people who are experiencing this.

DMG: Local charities reportedly donate rice to the grassroots in Kyaukphyu. What is the situation in Kyaukphyu?

Local charities dare not donate rice to the grassroots as the regime has arrested some philanthropists in recent days. As for how much they can do in this situation, I see that they have exhausted their ability to struggle now. Local people will face nutritional shortages. So I can’t say for sure what will happen in this way, but it’s definitely bad.

DMG: What can you tell us about the social difficulties that local people face on a daily basis due to the junta road blockades?

In terms of health, there is currently a child from Myebon who is being treated for heart surgery. The doctor ordered that he should go to Yangon for treatment. He has no money to undergo heart surgery in Yangon.

Another thing is that military hospital ships visit Kyaukphyu. This is the ‘coming of the saviour’ after making people suffer. The regime should not impose travel restrictions. Schools in Kyaukphyu were closed after renewed fighting began in Arakan State on November 13. Parents don’t send their children to school in fear and anxiety.

DMG: What are the consequences for the future?

Wealthy communities can afford to endure food shortages. It is impossible for the poor to get enough nutrition. The grassroots have been underdeveloped for nutrition, and now they are rotten. Children suffer from malnutrition and can be physically and mentally impaired. Some people have gone hungry due to the junta road blockages. It will not be good for people in the long run.

DMG: How are security measures in Kyaukphyu?

The regime has increased its military presence in downtown Kyaukphyu. Junta security personnel were deployed at the security checkpoints.

Some wealthy people and activists have gone into hiding as the junta attempted to arrest them. I don’t know the reason for the arrest. It is as if the people have to wait for the police who are supposed to protect the people, wondering, ‘When will they come and arrest us?’

DMG: How is the situation in rural areas?

People in rural areas needn’t worry about food. They can easily search for rice, vegetables and fish. But the rural people have a shortage of medicine for health issues, so they have to seek treatment from local traditional medicine practitioners. Although rural people can come to the city for urgent health issues, not everyone is able.

DMG: How should the problems faced by Kyaukphyu residents be solved?

Officials from the local rice merchants association discussed matters relating to the import of rice. Rice merchants were summoned by the township administrator. We hoped to buy rice, but the situation has not changed. I think U Nyein Chan Maung, an official tasked with the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, and former lawmaker U Ba Shein, should cooperate with concerned departments and local authorities to seek ways to solve rice shortages in Kyaukphyu.

DMG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There are world-class development projects in Kyaukphyu. I don’t think the Brotherhood Alliance will destroy this. This group has some degree of relationship with China. It can be said that Kyaukphyu is not the Brotherhood Alliance’s target.

There are reports that junta soldiers and police abandoned their camps in some areas. It is not easy to have fighting near the town where the Chinese project is located. Why did the junta block land and water routes to Kyaukphyu? Don’t the junta officials think that behind doing this, it hurts people from all walks of life, especially the grassroots?

If the roads are blocked for a long time, it is very worrying for the people. Therefore, I want to urge the regime to rescind these actions as soon as possible.