Wa is the Self-Administrated Division of Shan State, Myanmar, located on the Chinese border. It has a total land area of 35,000 km², with 599,068 inhabitants. It was formed in 1989 when the Communist Party of Burma fragmented into ethnic armed groups, and under the leadership of the United Wa State Army. Since then, it has maintained its own autonomy and governance mechanisms. There are 16 minority groups in Wa. The ethnic Wa accounts for 70% of total population, with Lahu and Shan as the 2nd and 3rd largest ethnic minorities.
Wa Region is remote and isolated, with livelihood conditions varying. Wa region is best-known to the international community as a former poppy producing region. Owing to poverty, remoteness and localized armed conflicts, local farmers resorted to poppy cultivation. Moreover, the faster economic return enticed the local population into opium production. A poppy eradication campaign was introduced in June 2015 by the central Government, which deprived small ex-opium farmers of the major income source. Insufficient technical and financial support for livelihood alternatives put lives of smallholders at risk. Furthermore, agriculture is less viable as the soil fertility depleted by the poppy cultivation. The resultant food insecurity issue has persisted among small-scale farmers in isolated and impoverished villages.
Predominant United Wa State Army (UWSA), fragmented from the Communist Party of Burma, signed a ceasefire agreement in 1989. However, the regions were overshadowed by armed clashes. Recurrent conflicts and political tensions have constantly generated precarious working conditions for international and national nongovernmental organisations. WFP has been the only UN agency presents in Wa working on food and livelihoods.
WFP presence in Wa region dates back to May 2004 when a sub-office was established in Pang Kham. Three operations have since been implemented, whose main objective was to cover the food gap of affected ex-poppy famers during the transition period to sustainable alternative livelihoods.
WFP expanded to the whole of Wa Region in 2005. In 2007, WFP operation was transitioned into Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations and had been implementing School Feeding, Asset Creation, and Food-by-prescription for HIV/TB patients. Following the military tension in 2010 between the Government forces and the United Wa State Army reached its peak as a result of Border Guard Force incident, WFP withdrew at the Government’s request, in October 2010 and only returned in November 2011. By 2014, WFP operation has gradually increased to 22 out of 23 townships.