Myanmar (Burma) has endured prolonged conflict for decades, predominantly in rural regions, pitting government forces against nonstate armed groups primarily organised along ethnic lines. Fighting intensified and spread across the country after the military retook power in 2021. By October 2023, three prominent armed factions in the North East joined together to accelerate confrontations with the government. Coordinated attacks flared in other regions, including South East and Rakhine states, significantly amplifying civilian casualties and humanitarian needs within the nation.

Myanmar ranks fifth on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) 2024 Emergency Watchlist, an annual report identifying countries most susceptible to a deteriorating humanitarian situation in 2024.

Read on to find out why.

Civilians will shoulder the burden of increased violence

In October 2023, a conglomerate of nonstate armed groups launched a coordinated operation against Myanmar’s central government in Northern Shan State. The fighting quickly escalated and spread across the country. More than 2.7 million people across Myanmar are internally displaced - including 800,000 who have been displaced since October 2023.

In Rakhine State, another nonstate armed group ended a truce with the government by launching an offensive against the military. 

The government has increasingly relied on air strikes in civilian areas, leading to significant civilian casualties. Amid mounting pressure on the military and escalating conflict, the civilians of Myanmar will bear the brunt of the harm, facing severe humanitarian crises.

Myanma refugees stand in a makeshift refugee camp near a river.
Violence in Myanmar has displaced millions inside the country and across national borders—primarily to Thailand, India, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
Photo: Guillaume Payen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Millions could be left without access to critical services

Myanmar’s healthcare and public services have collapsed in most conflict areas as violence disrupts communications and blocks key transport routes, and as martial law continues to prevail in most parts of the country. Conflict is driving significant infrastructure damage, leading to prolonged communication and electricity blackouts, particularly in urban areas - which will further hamper the ability of critical sectors to function. 

A severe shortage of healthcare workers and resources is leaving vital facilities shuttered, while at least 287 attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances were recorded between January and mid-September 2023. 

Within Myanmar, a significant number of the 2.7 million displaced persons reside in rural regions and must make lengthy journeys to access the critical services that remain available.

Communities increasingly rely on humanitarian aid agencies and community networks for the provision of social services, including health and education.

An IRC clinic nurse sits across from a patient who she gives medical advice to.
An IRC clinic nurse, Khine Wai* (left), treats patients at the Thae Chaung Camp for displaced people in Myanmar.
Photo: Shin Thandar for the IRC

Food insecurity set to impact more than 15 million people

The convergence of escalating poverty, movement restrictions, inflation, disruption of markets, climate shocks, and conflict has plunged 15.2 million individuals in Myanmar into varying degrees of food insecurity, ranging from moderate to severe.

Myanmar's marginal economic growth in 2023 falls short of offsetting the significant 12% economic contraction that the country has experienced since 2021. Poverty rates and inflation remain high, increasing the prices of staples like rice, cooking oil, and cereals. The ongoing devaluation of Myanmar’s currency, the kyat, has worsened food insecurity by driving up the cost of imported goods.

Myanmar's typically robust agricultural industry has faced significant challenges due to escalating conflicts and climate shocks. Amid this reduction of domestic crop yields, Cyclone Mocha had a major impact on food production and the livelihoods of at least 3.4 million people

Unfortunately, the impending El Niño season is poised to bring about unpredictable rainfall patterns and increased temperatures, exacerbating the challenges faced by Myanmar's agricultural sector.

A father and mother pose for a family portrait with their two sons in their home in Myanmar.
The combined impacts of economic decline, conflict, and climate shocks are making it more difficult for families to put food on the table.
Photo: Shin Thandar for the IRC

Extreme constraints on humanitarian access create heightened challenges

In 2022, new legal mandates placed more stringent limitations on humanitarian groups and their personnel. Humanitarian aid workers frequently face dangers, including detention - 50 humanitarian workers were detained in the first half of 2023.

Amidst stringent bureaucracy, restrictive policies, escalated conflict in various states and regions, and the presence of armed opposition group checkpoints, humanitarians face “extreme” challenges and barriers to delivering aid in Myanmar.

The conflict has resulted in attacks on urban centres, exposing civilians and humanitarians to intense security risks. Attacks, including indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian areas and camps for internally displaced people, drive civilians to escape to forested areas away from camps and services -  making it even more difficult to reach those in need.

Myanmar’s humanitarian response plan received just 29% of its necessary funding in 2023, curbing the ability of humanitarian organisations to meet the needs of crisis-affected communities in Myanmar.

An IRC clinic nurse gives a check up to a pregnant woman in Myanmar.
Phyu Hnin*, an IRC nurse performs a health check on Razia*, who has been visiting an IRC clinic in her village for routine check ups throughout her pregnancy.
Photo: Shin Thandar for the IRC

What is the IRC doing to support Myanmar?

In 2008, the IRC initiated an emergency response and early recovery efforts to aid communities affected by Cyclone Nargis. In the years since, the IRC has expanded its range of activities in Myanmar. We deliver programming focused on improving health, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene outcomes. Additionally, the IRC runs shelter programmes that help displaced, crisis-affected and vulnerable communities to survive, recover and gain control of their futures. 

The IRC’s current programming in Myanmar strongly focuses on supporting people affected by the escalating conflict that has spread across the country since February 2021. We also continue to support marginalised and stateless communities, as well as people who were internally displaced before the 2021 escalation. Our services are tailored to provide specialised support to women, children, and marginalised communities in Myanmar.

In addition to direct service provision, a critical component of the IRC’s programme strategy involves delivering support to and through local partners. The IRC currently works across multiple sectors, with a range of local partners, in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Northern Shan, Kayah, and Kayin States.

Learn more about the IRC’s Myanmar response.

An IRC health promoter points to a sign and delivers messages on infant care to a new mother.
IRC health promoter, Ma Shwe Sein*, teaches a neonatal health care lesson to new mothers in Rakhine State, Myanmar.
Photo: Shin Thandar for the IRC

How can I support the people of Myanmar?

Donate now to support the IRC's life-changing work in Myanmar and worldwide. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 50 countries, including places on the 2024 Emergency Watchlist.

Read more about the top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2024 and download the full 2024 Emergency Watchlist report for profiles of all 20 crisis countries on the IRC's list.

*Pseudonym used for privacy