April 5, 2014
Reporting from Yangon, Myanmar, where I am relocated after the March 26th and 27th riots in Sittwe, Rakhine State. This is a report on the current condition in Rakhine State extracted from various agencies affected by the crisis.
See news articles and videos:
Or Google ‘riots in rakhine myanmar’
Hundreds of thousands of people who were already living in dire conditions in Rakhine have been severely affected by the disruption of humanitarian assistance following last week’s attacks on UN and NGO premises in Sittwe on March 26th and 27th. As reported in my post the office, where I am the Head of Rakhine Response, was one of over 40 offices ransacked during the riots. Refer to that post for pictures of what our office looked like after the riots.
More than 1,500 humanitarian workers (both international and national) have been prevented from providing life-saving assistance to displaced people, isolated villages, and Rakhine communities as a result of the state and union government’s refusal to allow organizations return to their work. Activities must be urgently re-established to their previous state to avoid a life-threatening deterioration of the humanitarian situation. Young children and other vulnerable groups are especially at risk.
The violence on the 26th and 27th March, during which 40+ UN and NGO offices, living quarters, and warehouses were attacked and seriously damaged or looted, was the culmination of months of increasing intimidation and harassment of humanitarian staff and local suppliers by a vocal minority in the Rakhine community.
This is the peak of the dry season and water availability is reaching critical levels. Some internally displaced persons camps were already importing water by boat before the crisis. The International Committee for the Red Cross has been supporting the government to bring fuel for pumping and water treatment, and drinkable water by boats to approximately 10,000 people in Pauktaw camps, but it does not cover their basic needs. 8,000 more are at risk of water shortage in the coming days. In the Muslim camp where my organization provides water, sanitation and child protection services to over 3,000 displaced Muslims and over 200 displaced Rakhine, water in the containment ponds dried up by mid-February. We negotiated with the township authorities to have water pumped to the camp twice daily from a community water source six kilometres away. With the rainy season approaching, the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases will rapidly increase unless water, sanitation, and hygiene programs are fully reinstated.
A limited water source in one of our IDP camps
And it’s often the young girls I see hauling it to the houses
A young Rakhine boy demonstrates how a ceramic filter is used to make water safe for drinking. Ceramic filters like these are distributed to families in the IDP camps where my organization works.
Health services were already insufficient and severely impacted by the suspension of MSF last month. See the following links for more details:
or Google ‘msf in rakhine’
Healthcare for the majority of IDPs and over 700,000 vulnerable people outside camps (mostly in the northern part of Rakhine State) is virtually non-existent, particularly in terms of life-saving emergency medical referrals. International NGOs normally provide an average of 400 emergency medical referrals to hospitals every month in Rakhine State, which represents a considerable gap to fill. Currently there is almost no response capacity by the Myanmar government in case of an outbreak of infectious diseases during the rainy season.
Nearly 15,000 children in IDP camps no longer have access to psycho-social support and children are extremely vulnerable to significant protection risks in the absence of services. Over 200 individual protection cases including cases of sexual and gender based violence will not receive any support and assistance while NGOs and the UN are refused access to their beneficiaries during this crisis. Life-saving health services and support for survivors of gender based and sexual violence, are no longer available to women and girls living in camps. An increased presence of armed actors, and an absence of service providers, creates an environment in which sexual violence will be pervasive, particularly among those women and girls who have to leave the camps to access resources such as firewood.
Protection by physical presence in conflict affected areas and camps are no longer possible. This is of particular concern for remote areas, such as Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Myebon and Pauktaw townships, where there are few humanitarian actors. Previously, at least one daily visit by protection actors occurred to these areas (in addition to full-time protection actors on location for particular areas) while Sittwe township camps would have been visited 25 times per week. Therefore, the minimum 130 monthly protection missions to these townships are no longer happening.
Therapeutic treatment for more than 300 children with severe acute malnutrition in Sittwe has been suspended. Malnutrition trends among children in IDP camps and in the northern part of Rakhine State over the past two years have already reached alarming levels. Without the immediate resumption of nutrition programs, the situation will deteriorate further, putting thousands of children at risk.
Food: 140,000 IDPs are dependent on food distributions which have been suspended since March 27th. All distributions for March were already completed. In anticipation of the census (now taking place) and water festival (starting on April 12th), almost half of the food distributions for April had already been completed in March. Fortunately, for the two camps my organization manages food distributions covered the entire month of March. WFP is currently in discussions with the Government and transporters in order to resume life-saving operations.
World Food Program food distributions in an IDP camp
Education in IDP camps plays a key role in protecting children and youth from physical and psychological harm, exploitation and radicalization and supports the delivery of potentially lifesaving interventions. This protective emergency education, currently being provided to approximately 18,500 children aged 6-10 and 5000 young people aged 11-17 in camps in Rakhine, is now at risk.
The international community has been requesting that the government take steps to ensure humanitarian activities can be resumed in a safe environment for humanitarian staff, including:
- Making a clear public statement on the situation and request that the UN and humanitarian partners return to their work immediately. Such a statement should also include that intimidation and/or violence against humanitarian staff and properties will not be tolerated by the authorities.
- Conducting an impartial and transparent investigation with clear findings and recommendations.
- Assuring that rule of law is applied with perpetrators of violence being identified and prosecuted.
- Proposing a clear joint plan for the international community to return to Rakhine, including adequate security assurances for staff and assets.
Travel throughout much of Rakhine State requires a special Travel Authorization (TA). To-date, the government has suspended the issuance of TA’s, which is currently affecting me and my international staff’s ability to travel to the two camps we manage. Our office and guest house were ransacked, so even when we return to Sittwe we will be forced to stay in the government hotel, which is the only secure place for international staff to stay right now. The problem is that there is limited space and most of the rooms have already been taken. We are currently negotiating to have at least one room open for our organization until we can repair our guest house. We are also awaiting assurances from the government that they will facilitate a safe and conducive environment for national staff by publicly supporting our work and ensuring perpetrators of intimidation are held accountable.
The violence on March 26th and 27th resulted in severe damage to 33 offices and premises, 6 cars and 2 boats. Large quantities of medical supplies have also been stolen.