In August 2020, a new surge in locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was reported in Rakhine State and other regions of Myanmar. According to the Ministry of Health and Sports, as of 30 October, 50 403 confirmed cases have been reported in Myanmar, with 2 858 confirmed cases in Rakhine State.
Consequently, to control the spread of COVID-19, Myanmar’s government introduced measures such as stay at home orders, banning of public events and closure of schools, entertainment venues, restaurants, and religious institutions as well as well restriction of movement within the state/between townships.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), these measures, which were introduced on August 16, have affected the continuity of humanitarian operations. The measures introduced in Rakhine State have necessitated the introduction of new ways of working.
In response to the measures taken by the government of Myanmar, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has introduced stringent protocols to be used in its field operations for COVID-19 prevention and control such as the use of personal protective equipment, guidelines for physical distancing and hygiene, and basic awareness messages in its programming. These protocols will help ensure continued delivery of assistance.
In partnership with the European Union (EU), from 13 to 28 October 2020 the FAO has completed unconditional cash distributions to 1 513 pregnant and lactating mothers in Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State. The cash transfer for pregnant and lactating women (PLW) is complementary (top up) to the Government Maternal and Child Cash Transfer (MCCT). This cash will cover the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating mothers and their infants. Along with these cash grants, face masks and bar soap were provided to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The assistance was provided within the framework of a three-year project titled “Improving food security and nutrition security in Rakhine State.” The objective of this project is to increase the resilience of livelihoods to natural hazards and conflicts. Specifically, the EU-funded project aims to restore and protect agricultural livelihoods in the vulnerable communities of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State.
According to Reda Lebtahi, the emergency and rehabilitation coordinator of the FAO, several localized assessments have found that the impact of restrictions on movement has varied in different states and regions and across sectors. Measures against COVID-19 were found in the areas where research was conducted to have had a significant impact on food production, market access, the quality and prices of agricultural inputs, employment, and income generation.
“This unconditional, one-time cash grant specifically targeting women, particularly pregnant and lactating women with children under two years of age, ensures that mothers will continue to have the resources to access nutritious foods as well as improved incomes and knowledge of nutrition to improve their diets,” the FAO Emergency rehabilitation coordinator emphasized.
In July 2020, the FAO also supported 6 000 of the most vulnerable farming households in northern and central Rakhine State with multi-purpose cash amounting to USD 642 000 and with various farm inputs. Findings of FAO Post Distribution Monitoring in September 2020, show that a majority of the farmers used most of the cash during the monsoon planting season, including costs for land preparation and labor. Beneficiaries also utilized the cash support for food and medical expenses.