Half of Myanmar's population could be living in poverty next year, driven by the combination of the pandemic and the political crisis sparked by the military coup, the UN said yesterday.
The dire warning came as renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic rebels sent more refugees fleeing across the jungle border with Thailand.
Myanmar -- already hit hard by coronavirus -- was plunged into turmoil when the military seized power on February 1, ousting the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The coup sparked a massive protest movement calling for a return to democracy, which the security forces have sought to quell with a brutal crackdown.
More than 750 civilians have been killed, according to a local monitoring group, while a widespread anti-junta civil disobedience movement has throttled large parts of the economy.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that by early 2022 as many as 25 million people, or nearly half the population, could be living below the poverty line.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said the crisis could reverse progress made since 2005, which has seen Myanmar halve the number of people living in poverty.
"Without functioning democratic institutions, Myanmar faces a tragic and avoidable backslide towards levels of poverty not seen in a generation," Steiner said in a statement.
The junta's crackdown on protests has drawn the ire of some of Myanmar's myriad ethnic armies, many of which have been battling the military for decades in border regions in the country's north and east.
Clashes between the military and the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the leading rebel groups, have escalated since the coup. Violence has also flared in northern Kachin state between the military and the Kachin Independence Army. Local officials said there were fresh air strikes and fighting yesterday on both fronts.