COVID-19 Op-ed

The Miserable State of Ta’ang Peoples of Myanmar in the time of COVID-19

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Stephen Nyein Han TunTea Land Research
Centreshwepalaungzayin@gmail.com

Since early March 2020, many countries, including those in the
Southeast Asian region, have been responding to the Covid-19 pandemic through
a range of emergency measures, which includes lockdowns, restricted movement
and provision of social safety nets for the poor. In Myanmar, the detection
of its first case much came later than the rest of the world (The Heartbeat
of Nation Myanmar Times, 2020: para. 1). As of this writing, there are
already 127 cases, with infections rising by the day.To ease the impacts of
Covid-19, the Government collaborated with different organisations to control
the outbreak of the disease. It also promised to provide basic needs to
civilians who are at risk of getting infected (The Irrawaddy 2020: para 1).
However, such aid has not reached those who need it the most. The limitation
of medical equipment and implementation, unequal distribution of food aid and
medical assistance, the lack of information regarding health education and
armed conflicts has made it more difficult for the people to survive the
crisis, especially the Ta’ang indigenous peoples whose livelihood
predominantly relies on agribusiness and tea production.The Ta’ang/Palaung is
an indigenous group with a population of about 1.5 million. They mainly
reside at the hillside areas of Northeast and Southeast Myanmar (Shan state).
At the moment, there has been no clear information about any Covid-19 cases
in areas where Ta’ang peoples live.Since the outbreak started, eighteen (18)
human rights cases have been recorded involving Ta’ang peoples. Such cases
include forced labour, torturing and unfounded arrests (Ta’ang Women
Organisation, 2020). Apart from these, such crisis had made it difficult for
them to be informed about the crisis, be compliant with preventive measures,
and more importantly, be able to withstand socio-economic impacts of
Covid-19.Lack of
Knowledge on Health and Access to Services
Ta’ang
peoples have little to no access to information about the COVID 19 pandemic
and available public health services. They also do not clearly understand
symptoms and ways to prevent the disease. One key reason for this is that
many of them do not understand the Burmese, which is the official language of
Myanmar. Thus, the Ta’ang people are not able to follow basic rules such as
physical distancing, wearing masks, regular hand-washing, and avoiding large
gatherings (Ta’ang Women Organisation, 2020). Perhaps, this could be the
reason why no cases have been recorded in their area.There is not enough
medicines and equipment, such as masks, testing kids and ventilators for
COVID-19 patients throughout the country. Such reality is very much felt in
remote areas. Samples have to be sent to Yangon for testing, and it usually
takes at least one week to get the results—which for a Covid-19 patient,
might be too long a wait (Tea Land Education Foundation, 2020).Unequal Distribution of
State Aid
As previously mentioned, the State
announced that it would provide food for the poor. (The Irrawaddy 2020).
However, most Ta’ang peoples from remote areas are unable to access this
support. The government had declared that those with farmlands are
disqualified from accessing such support (Kaung Sein, 2020). This move had
excluded many Ta’ang peoples, despite being economically deprived and at high
risk of infection.Even though the State has announced regulations, many local
stores still increased prices of essential goods. This has severely affected
the tea industry, which many Ta’ang peoples rely on. Tea sales keep
decreasing due to low demand from cities and monopolization by a few local
brokers. This mean that a significant number tea worker might end up
unemployed due to the current situation.The Need for an Inclusive Covid-19
Governance
Despite confronted by a low number of
cases compared to its neighboring countries, the Myanmar government should
act swiftly, strategically and humanely in order to stop the Coronavirus from
spreading throughout the country. It should focus on disseminating
life-saving information in languages understood by indigenous/ethnic groups.
It should also ensure equitable distribution of food and access to medical
assistance, especially in far-flung areas. Furthermore, the Government is
compelled to implement measures for indigenous peoples to be fully healthy,
safe, and secure during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.Reference:

Nyein Han Tun2019    Ta’ang
Tea Farmer and Customary Land Dispossession in the Context of China-Economic
Corridor in Northeast Myanmar. MA thesis, Chiang Mai University,
Thailand.

Kaung Sein2020   Interview by the author. Shwe
Phee Myay New Agency (20 April 2020).Ta’ang Women Organisation2020 
  Statement on Human Rights Violation in Ta’ang Region.Ta’ang Women
Organisation2020    Interview by the author. Ta’ang Women
Organisation (19 April 2020).Tea Land Education Foundation2020 
 Interview by the author. Tea Land Education Foundation (19 April
2020).The heartbeat of Nation: Myanmar Times2020   State Counsellor
says Myanmar still free of COVID-19, https://www.mmtimes.com/news/state-counsellor-says-myanmar-still-free-covid-19.html
(Accessed 21 April 2020).The Irrawaddy2020   Latest COVID-19
Developments in Myanmar: April 6, 2020https://www.irrawaddy.com/specials/myanmar-covid-19/latest-covid-19-developments-myanmar-april-6-2020.html
(Accessed 21 April 2020).United Nations2020    Secretary-General Reiterates
Appeal for Global Ceasefire, Warns ‘Worst Is Yet to Come’ as COVID-19
Threatens Conflict Zones. https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sgsm20032.doc.htm.(Accessed
22 April 2020).World Health Organisation2020    WHO
Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020
(Accessed 22 April 2020).

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