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Church steps in as food shortages hit Myanmar's Chin state

Parishes join mission to send rice and other items to villages cut off by renewed fighting

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Church steps in as food shortages hit Myanmar's Chin state

A Mro ethnic woman, who was displaced by fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar troops, carries a child while taking refuge at a compound of a Buddhist pagoda in Buthidaung township in restive Rakhine state in January 2019. (Photo: AFP)

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Church officials are providing aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and villages facing food shortages because of transport difficulties in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Chin state.

The price of rice is high and many rice bags sent by the government have not reached villages in Paletwa township and nearby areas due to roadblocks and the security situation, according to church officials.

Father Thomas Saung Way, parish priest of St. Peter’s Church in Paletwa town, said they have supplied rice and non-food items to IDPs and villages with contributions from the diocese, Karuna (Caritas), a nuns’ congregation and Jesuits.

The priest said the price of rice has skyrocketed and one 15kg bag costs about 70,000 kyats (US$53).

“The situation remains tense despite no clashes having so far erupted near Paletwa. And it is not possible for thousands of IDPs to return home as security poses a major challenge,” Father Saung Way told UCA News.

The priest said some 130 IDPs — mostly Catholic and a few Baptist and Buddhist — have been provided with temporary shelter in his church’s compound, while thousands of IDPs including Catholics are taking shelter at a monastery and government-owned buildings in Paletwa town.

Since late September, around 60,000 people in remote villages in Paletwa township have faced a severe food shortage due to the disruption of road links.

Local aid groups said some 1,700 rice bags had reached Paletwa town by Oct. 23 and were distributed to camps and nearby villages.

Father John Inga Aung, a priest from Samee township, said some rice bags reached Samee after being sent by the government and NGOs from Matupi township.

He said more than 3,000 IDPs are taking shelter in four temporary camps in Samee township where the Church, WFP and other NGOs are responding to the needs of people. Karuna (Caritas) Pyay has sent cash to buy rice for IDPs.

Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army have been embroiled in almost two years of conflict in Rakhine state which has spilled into neighboring Paletwa township.

Hundreds of civilians have died, thousands including children have been injured and more than 90,000 people have been displaced due to the renewed conflict in Rakhine and Chin states.

Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho from Pyay Diocese, which covers Rakhine and Paletwa township, has urged the faithful to say the rosary and observe one hour’s adoration in October with the intention to cease hostilities and control the Covid-19 outbreak.

He has called for dialogue among the concerned parties as civilians including children and the elderly bear the brunt of the fighting.

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