File photo: Myanmar junta military soldiers parade during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2024.
File photo: Myanmar junta military soldiers parade during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

United Nations: Millions of people in Myanmar "cannot afford for us to forget" their suffering, a UN official said Thursday, describing mounting hunger, mass displacement and safety concerns as the conflict between the junta and ethnic minority groups drags on.

The military's ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi's government in 2021 sparked renewed fighting with ethnic minority armed groups, as well as with pro-democracy "People's Defense Forces" (PDFs) in areas previously untouched by decades of conflict in Myanmar.

"As the conflict continues to escalate, as humanitarian needs intensify, and with the monsoon season just around the corner, time is of essence for the people of Myanmar," UN official Lisa Doughten told the Security Council, on behalf of humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.

"They cannot afford for us to forget. They cannot afford to wait. They need the support of the international community now to help them survive in this time of fear and turmoil."

According to the United Nations, 2.8 million people are displaced in Myanmar, 90 per cent of them since the junta took power in 2021. That number has only risen as fighting has intensified in the Southeast Asian nation since last autumn.

In October, an alliance of ethnic minority fighters launched a surprise offensive in northern Shan state, capturing territory and taking control of lucrative trade routes to China.

Across the country, residents "are living in daily fear for their lives," Doughten said - especially since the junta said in February it would enforce a military service law, allowing it to call up all men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27 for two years.

"Across Myanmar, hunger is mounting. In 2024, food insecurity is now affecting some 12.9 million people - nearly 25 percent of the population," the UN official added.

Khaled Khiari, the UN assistant secretary general for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, said an end to the "military's campaign of violence and political repression" would be "a vital step."

He expressed concern about what he called "unprecedented" unrest in western Rakhine state, where civilians, notably Rohingya, are caught in fighting between the military and fighters affiliated with the Arakan Army.

About one million Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority that has faced persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The current situation in Rakhine means there is no "immediate prospect for the safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya to their places of origin or choice," Khiari said.

To try to find a solution to Myanmar's political crisis, Khiari said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to appoint a new special envoy to the country "in the coming days."

The post has been vacant since June 2023.