Community resilience provides a powerful force against total uncertainty
Information in this article is based on our first-hand reports from Myanmar. Facts are changing rapidly. Similar information can be found via sources such as the United Nation’s World Food Programme.
Myanmar’s road to political and social transformation faced an abrupt and shocking halt when a military coup in February shattered the country’s fragile democratic reform and reversed a decade of economic gains.
Since the military declared a state of emergency – hours after detaining senior leaders of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which gained an overwhelming 83% of votes in the November 2020 elections – the effects of the coup have been disastrous.
Massive protests and strikes across all sectors, including health, education, economic and government institutions, have formed a nationwide ‘civil disobedience movement’ (CDM). The military has responded with deadly violence and intimidation including tracking the movements of individuals.
Daily life across the country is now characterised by stress, fear and uncertainty, with people often staying home to avoid danger. While marginalised people groups have heightened emergency needs, stress is being felt across all demographics as each day brings new rules and policies…and new rumours and realities.
Serious economic turmoil has led to job losses, with many no longer earning money and lacking funds to cover daily living expenses, and everyone facing near-impossible access to personal funds due to the collapse of the banking sector.
Basic needs are under pressure, with most people struggling for food. Reports suggest that more than 3 million people are in food crisis in Yangon alone, the most populated region in the country – only exacerbated by water insecurity during a very hot season.
In some regions, services and supplies continue to dwindle to alarming levels. In others, prices have risen well beyond affordability – such as rice and petrol by more than 30% and general daily household costs nearly tripling.
Medical support is hard to access, with around 15% of hospital staff turning up to work, and volunteer pop-up clinics trying to plug the gaps. Schools are reporting as little as 1 in 10 students in attendance due to the climate of fear.
Trust, even in someone’s neighbour, is too risky and resulting in people being attacked if they are even thought to be on the side of the military.
In this context, which is only worsened by the growing challenges of COVID-19, Graceworks Myanmar (GWM) has witnessed the potent force of community resilience.
Even where there is dire need for greater humanitarian aid and community development support, particularly in cities, community ties are providing the fabric needed to keep people alive – direct bonds between neighbours and bridging ties into nearby communities.
Many communities are also innately using asset-based principles to survive, with our team hearing of family-to-family and village-to-village sharing as a practical way to overcome gaps in basic supplies, and to give and receive economic and social support.
That community resilience is common to Myanmar’s people and will be the force that keeps as many alive as possible.
GWM is fortunate to continue our longstanding community development education and peacebuilding work in Rakhine State, somewhat due to the more remote nature of that work. There, dependence on agriculture at least gives people more reliable access to staples such as rice.
However, our dedicated and courageous team members are reporting the substantial need still going unmet across the country. Our network alone spans Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady and Mandalay regions, and Rahkine and Shan states. Our team has been wisely braving a level of risk to reach the most vulnerable.
Myanmar’s people need the support of the international community. In the words of one of our leaders on the ground, “the next two months are unthinkable”.
The country needs a path to peace in this season of total uncertainty – and, in the meantime, they need our continued advocacy and, for those able, our practical support. GWM will soon launch our crisis appeal as part of our response, in addition to our continued community development work.