Food aid to refugees faces cuts

Dec 6, 2007 (DVB), A humanitarian agency working on the Thai-Burma border has been forced to make cuts in food provisions to Burmese refugees because of funding shortfalls.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium has been providing food aid to over 150,000 refugees in ten camps along the Thai-Burma border for around 20 years.

But now funding shortfalls and increasing numbers of new arrivals have meant that the group has been forced to cut back its provisions.

In particular, supplies of fish paste and chilli, staple ingredients in Burmese cooking, are to be cut by half.

Shelly Townsend from TBBC said that a number of factors had led to the funding shortfall.

"We've been affected by the exchange rate , the Thai baht is still very strong, we've continued to get new arrivals and commodity prices are increasing," she said.

The strength of the baht against the US dollar has meant that the group is losing about 7 percent, around 80 million baht, of its budget from foreign funders.

Saw Ni, a Burmese refugee in Thailand, said he was worried about the shortages.

"That's going to hurt us if they cut down on the supplies. We can't even go out of the camps to get things for ourselves," he said.

Another refugee, Ma Pearl, was also concerned by the cutbacks.

"Cutting down on these supplies will leave us with a food shortage problem, since we are living inside the refugee camps and we can't go out and earn money for ourselves, she said.

"Fish paste is our main source of protein."

Ms Townsend said that TBBC is concerned about the possible need for further cuts and the problems they could cause for refugees.

"If we have to make further cuts, the concern is how that might impact on their health," she said.

"The other area of concern is that if we are unable to provide for their basic needs, more people will be tempted to go outside of camp to try and find work to support themselves and therefore they run the risk of being arrested because they're outside of the camps."

Reporting by Saw Kanyaw

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