‘Access, the main challenge is access to the growing number of people in need.’

Myanmar’s situation is competing with other international crises and is rarely covered by international media. For various reasons, when it comes to international relations, the country’s affairs are preferably treated with discretion. So, in the general perception Myanmar seems to be of secondary importance. Whereas many foreign companies left Myanmar in the months following the coup, aid organizations, if still licensed, are continuing their work. This is engagement is not always uncontested as it is the case of the United Nations (UN).

Mr. Bratzke, what are the current temperatures in Yangon?

Today, May 1st, we have already 37° C. The whole region is experiencing an unparalleled heat wave these days.

For how long have you been in Myanmar?

Three different assignments have added up to a total of seven years and a half with the current assignment making up almost six years of the whole time.

Have you been able to travel within the country? If yes, where have you been?

After February 2021, travelling has been much more difficult than it used to be [due to conflict zones across the country, roadblocks, check points].

These days I spend most of the time in Yangon with occasional trips to Nay Pyi Taw. However, over the years I have seen a few places across the country.

From January 2009 until June 2010 I was based in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, living and working in the small town of Bogalay being part of WHH’s “Nargis Emergency Response Programme”. 

Other work-related trips brought me to the Dry Zone, to Northern Shan State and Chin State. I also explored the country as a tourist seeing historical places like Bagan and Mandalay, watching sunsets over the Bay of Bengal.

Villagers of Tedim Township, Chin State, are welcoming guests in 2018. photo: Mike Bratzke

The pictures above show people fleeing from Tonzang, to villages in Tedim Township. Flight and displacement occur on a daily basis across Myanmar as here in Chin State, May 2024. photos via Irrawaddy

Would you mind telling us about your professional background?

Being a civil engineer and certified vocational trainer, I was qualified to work as a technical advisor and logistician. As such, I entered the world of humanitarian assistance in 1999 while getting employed by the small NGO “Cap Anamur”.

What followed were years of working for diverse INGOs in Asia and Africa. Later, I graduated in the United Kingdom with a master’s degrees in Politics and Development. This was almost 20 years ago. Career steps then included my work as a project manager, programme director, and finally the position as a country director. However, the majority of my career I have dedicated to WHH, which accumulates to 18 years. This is because of the organisation’s goals, its work culture, the opportunities provided for its employees, and also for the organisation’s impact on the ground.

This is interesting. Thanks for sharing. So, let’s talk about money. What is the WHH-budget for Myanmar?

The WHH’s budget for Myanmar in 2023 was € 3.77 million, made up of private donations and institutional grants. This is a relatively modest budget to work with if we look at other countries such as Pakistan with € 14.3 million of an annual budget in the same period, and it also reflects the difficulties to work in a country like Myanmar. Although having equally big and severe problems, the country doesn’t generate a lot of attention in the media, making fundraising for Myanmar very difficult.

What about German people’s readiness to donate money to WHH’s projects in Myanmar? There are competing situations like the hunger in Sudan, the war in Ukraine, the Gaza conflict.

Due to competition with other crises taking place worldwide which also have a much greater appeal to the media outlets than Myanmar’s situation generates, the acquisition of funds over recent years has become harder.

What we see is that there is less funding made available. Previously allocated funding for Myanmar has been reallocated by Western donor institutions, like Germany’s BMZ [Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development], in order to address the needs in places like Ukraine, Sudan, Afghanistan.

But: Although donors involved in Myanmar affairs have become more hesitant in providing funds for humanitarian aid – let alone development cooperation – Germany has been quite consistent with its contributions over the years.

So I would like to stress again: Grants and donations may have slightly fluctuated since 2020 but have remained fairly the same, making up ca. 70% of WHH’s budget every year. This refers to the WHH Myanmar-budget only. Whereas other organisations experienced severe budget cuts, WHH has continuously received round about € 3.5 to 4 million per annum as I said before. So, neither our dedicated private donors nor the public donor institutions have interrupted their financial aid for Myanmar, despite the competing global crises situation.

Do you have Burmese donors, too?

Yes and no. Although, WHH does not receive any institutional funding or financial support from private donors within Myanmar directly, WHH greatly benefits from volunteer work and contributions from the communities.

Charity is a well-established concept and widely practiced in urban and rural communities. Donating food, money, and clothes as well as doing voluntary work in the communities is a very common feature of Myanmar’s social fabric. This is anchored in the Buddhist way of life and in the Christian belief-system, too. But one also has to be aware that this is kind of civil society’s response to an insufficient public service system lacking basic social services.

On your organisation’s website „11 current projects“are listed for Myanmar. Please, could you elaborate on one or two of them?

The first project that comes to my mind is RSSD (short for Rice Seed Sector Development project) implemented in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy region. The project started in October of 2017 as part of a concerted effort by the then civilian government and the international donor community to reform Myanmar’s seed sector.

The initiative aimed to increase the demand for quality seed, while simultaneously improving availability and access of affordable quality seed for local smallholder farmers.

Producing new gadgets e.g. a “Supply-and-Demand for Quality Seed”-app was publicly praised. It popularized RSSD beyond the Ayeyarwady region. So, RSSD is surely one of Welthungerhilfe’s flagship projects in Myanmar.

Do you cooperate with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), especially with Community Based Organizations (CBOs)?

Absolutely, a big yes. We are aware of the fact that any meaningful impact can only be achieved in collaboration with other actors, particularly local ones.

We also work with a wide range of grassroot level organisations which are often less structured and loosely organised compared to NGOs.

However, all these organisations are deeply rooted within their respective communities and fill a crucial gap in the provision of basic social services. They play a vital role in maintaining social justice and cohesion. So, WHH has supported countless CBOs since it established its first country office in 2002 in Myanmar.

So, for many years, WHH has successfully cooperated with national NGOs and CBOs, either in joint projects or by providing the financial means and technical assistance for them.

Given the “big yes”, could you give us an example of a cooperation? Of course, anonymized, if you want to.

After the coup d’état those partnerships with civil society actors have gained strongly in significance.

Good examples are the communities in Htan Tabin township in the West of peri-urban Yangon. Since 2007 WHH has worked closely with over 50 communities in this area and has cooperated with almost 100 CBOs concerned with community development and food and nutrition security.

Over many years of engagement and assistance for those selected CBOs, WHH has supported and finally witnessed the emergence of a self-sustaining network covering 42 communities in 2024.

Finally, due to the currently restricted radius of action WHH increasingly relies on its local partners to access households and communities.

This collaboration seems to be a success. Now, as an expert, could you explain to us the FAO/WFP‘s statement “Myanmar needs continuous monitoring”1?

This report deals with current and future food insecurity worldwide. For example, in Myanmar, all of the progress made in fighting poverty and hunger between 2010 and 2020 has been erased just within the last two years. Hence, the report states the importance to closely monitor the „four columns of food security “, which are heavily endangered in Myanmar. Those columns according to the “Rome Declaration on World Food Summit Plan of Action”(1996) are availability of food, access to it, its utilization, and its stability. Today the application of UNICEF’s conceptual framework of “Food and Nutrition Security” is more common. [Here find the “Global Food Crises Report 2024”].

Does the WHH cooperate with the UN?

For many years, we have cooperated with diverse UN-organizations, especially with UNOPS and FAO. Within the framework of the UN Cluster System we coordinate our work as far as possible with the WFP, UNICEF and OCHA.

What are the main hindrances of your work and what is going really well?

Access, the main challenge is access to the growing number of people in need. The current situation in Myanmar often leaves people in unimaginable living conditions, intensified by the country’s poor infrastructure. […] .

So, what works well? Coordination and solidarity between and among the humanitarian aid community works well. I must say hard times like these have galvanized the national and international aid and development communities. Joint efforts are supposed to make all of our work as efficient as possible.

What has changed for your work after February 2021 when the State Administration Council (SAC) was formed and so many people in Myanmar joined the resistance?

In the aftermath of the coup d’état, we had to adjust programs and projects in accordance with the new realities. Changes we had to make were of an operational and programmatic nature. We had to adjust how we work and deliver the projects e.g. how we organize visits to the communities, we had to rethink our plans, and coordination with de facto authorities. And we had to review to what extent the content of our projects still was in line with our goals under changed framework conditions.

The cooperation with the de facto authorities turned out to be the greatest challenge.

General communication, regular meetings, information exchange, and essential coordination with line ministries like the Ministry of Agriculture, Livelihood, and Irrigation (MoALI) were interrupted. This directly affected our project implementation.

Since the coup, line ministries no longer have clearly set goals or priorities due to the changed priorities of the people in charge. They all must follow the SAC’s primary objectives […]. Simultaneously, new bureaucratic barriers, administrative dead-ends and ambiguous legal challenges are being constructed on a daily basis.

Additionally, WHH as a foreign non-governmental organization, working closely with national civil society organisations is now under strict scrutinity like other organisations, as well.

2017: A handover ceremony of a school building in Paya Gyi/Palaung, constructed by WHH in behalf of German donor “Fly and Help”. A smooth cooperation with the Ministeries was still possible. First from the right you see Mr. Mike Bratzke, second from the right is a representative of the Ministry of Education, both of them in the midst of children wearing culture-reflecting clothes. photo: Suzanne Scholaen (WHH).

In the current situation, what is most important for your organisation’s work?

Of the greatest importance are the people whom we promised to assist their pursuit of a life without hunger. This is our priority. That means we have to adjust our operation constantly in accordance with the very dynamic operational environment.

For example, one, if not the most important pre-requisite for staying and working in the country is the registration with the de facto authorities. Enacted in October 2022, the “Organisation Registration Law” requires all national and international NGOs to register with the SAC-administration.

Whether we like it or not, obtaining a registration certificate is very important to reduce the challenges we are facing right now such as restricted movement, limited banking services, and the facilitation of visas for international staff.

Therefore, like many other organisations, WHH is working hard to get a new registration. Of equal importance is the support of our national partners to ensure they have access to our resources and the technical backstopping from us they need to implement projects.

If possible, could you tell us something about the strategic planning of the WHH concerning Myanmar?

“One Planet, Zero Hunger” is WHH’s current “Global Strategy (2021-2024)”, which sets organisational priorities. Those are to be adapted into specific country strategies.

Current framework conditions in Myanmar, as I said before, are volatile. That is why WHH adapted an interim country strategy called „Strategic Framework Myanmar 2024-25“. This framework guides us in setting priorities, allocating the scarce resources we have, and making sure the organisation will achieve at least its short-term goals in the country.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for providing insights into yours and your organisation’s work, Mr. Bratzke. Best wishes.


  1. Food and Agriculture Organization / World Food Program of the United Nations. Hunger Hot Spots.11/ 2023-04/ 2024:10. ↩︎

The interview was conducted via e-mailing. It was edited for reasons of clarity and length.

CBO Community Based Organization

CSO Civil Society Organization

FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

I(NGO) International (Non-Governmental Organization)

OCHA United Nations Office for the Coordination ofo Humanitarian Affairs

RSSD Rice Seed Sector Development project

SAC State Administration Council

UN United Nations

UNICEF United Nations Childrens Fund (until 1953 United Nations International Emergency Fund)

UNOPS United Nations Office for Project Services

WFP World Food Program

WHH Welthungerhilfe

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