Kachin IDPs Face Food Insecurity During COVID-19 Lockdown

Sumlut Lu San

All the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Kachin State have been under lockdown since the end of March after the government confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Burma. KNG spoke with Sumlut Lu San, who is in charge of Zi Lun (Zion) IDP camp in Myitkyina, about the challenges the camp faces without enough food to last the entire lockdown period. There are 712 IDPs from 140 families living in Zi Lun (Zion) camp. In Kachin State, there are about 90,000 IDPs that fled fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, according to UN estimates.

What steps have been taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Zi Lun IDP camp? 

We locked the camp and we aren’t allowing the residents to gather. No-one can leave the camp to do daily work and other organizations can’t come inside. If a CSO (civil society organisation) comes to visit we will meet them outside. A basin with soap for washing hands has been installed outside the camp. We only allow people who are sick to leave.

Are any IDPs staying outside the camp at night?

No-one is staying out at night.

What education is being provided to residents about COVID-19? 

I announce guidelines provided by the health department and KBC (Kachin Baptist Convention) on a microphone.

Are IDPs adhering to these guidelines?

I announce the guidelines in the morning and in the evening. The IDPs are afraid of getting COVID-19, so they’re following the guidelines and washing their hands with soap.

What health protocols are in place for anyone that wants to leave or return to the camp?

We’re allowing people to leave for work but they can’t come back until the end of April (when the lockdown ends). We’re working with the state health department to check the health of anyone returning to the camp. After, they’re placed in home quarantine at their relative’s home for 14 days. Their health is checked one more time at the end of their quarantine.

During the lockdown how do you receive food rations and supplies for camp residents? 

We’re communicating with donors by phone. When they come to visit or bring supplies we meet them outside the camp.

Did you hear anything about the government providing rice, cooking oil, salt and beans during lockdowns?

The government donated rice but didn’t mention about giving anything else. They also didn’t say when they would come back again. They just told us not to go out for the next 2 weeks.

There are many IDPs living in Zi Lun camp. What do they really need during the lockdown? 

They need more food, financial assistance and medicine.

What are the difficulties the IDPs face during the lockdown?

Most residents used to work as day workers but since the lockdown started they can’t make money. The rice in the camp will run out before the end of the month.

Are some residents making handicrafts to earn money during the lockdown?

Some used to make money making handicrafts but now that the shops are closed they can’t buy the supplies they need and they stopped.

Is the government or any of the NGOs monitoring the situation in the camp? Are they visiting to provide information about the virus?

I think they’re too scared to come inside. But we’re also not allowing anyone from the outside come in. Some are giving information about COVID-19 prevention from outside the camp. Representatives from the Social, Relief and Resettlement ministry used a megaphone from the street to talk about the coronavirus. They told residents to wash their hands with soap and they donated some soap.

Is there anyone in the camp that is sick?

Some came down with the flu and were sent to the hospital.

Are there any programs in place to protect the elderly and children? 

We don’t have funding for this and we haven’t received financial support from other organisations to start these programs.

Is anything else you’d like to add?

We received instructions from the government to lock the camp until April 30. After this I don’t know if it will be extended. Most of the IDPs are day workers. If the lockdown is extended they won’t be able to earn any money to eat.

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