Civil society organizations visit public anti-drug programmes to better address drug problems in Myanmar

Civil society organizations visit public anti-drug programmes to better address drug problems in Myanmar

Myanmar is the epicentre of the drug trade. The country’s current laws are not effective enough to eliminate use and trade, and help those suffering with addiction recover and reintegrate into society. But civil society activists and social workers are working to change this.

Yangon (23rd October 2018) - A group of social workers, advocates and activists on drug issues from Myanmar’s Mon and Kayin states gathered in Yangon last week to improve the country’s drug policy advocacy strategy and put pressure on authorities to scale up efforts to address this widespread problem.

A total of 35 participants attended this study trip as part of the “Creating a space for the participation of Myanmar’s civil society in policy dialogue” project led by People in Need (PIN) and funded by the European Union and Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Attendees included the Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association, Yangon Psychiatric Hospital (where users receive treatment), and the Myanmar Drug Elimination Museum. Members of civil society organizations (CSOs), who aim to cooperate in more effective future drug elimination projects, find these meetings crucial for gaining better understanding on anti-drug programmes led by the national Government.

"The exchange visit was extremely useful to improve understanding and bring collaboration with other CSOs and authorities to a higher level," a social worker from Loka Ahlinn said. “Based on these kinds of experiences, local actors will figure out their policy advocacy objectives.”

Myanmar has struggled for decades with opium and heroin production and consumption. The issue is getting even more complex as methamphetamines have entered the scene in recent years. The UN now considers Myanmar the epicentre of drug trade in South-East Asia. Drugs like WY (a mixture of methamphetamine) are easily available, especially in the country’s south.

Prevention, information and treatment

While activists note an increase in drug use, prevention and treatment efforts lag behind. In general, CSOs working on drug issues seek better services for prevention, information, treatment, as well as less punitive action for users and small producers.

The core aim of this project´s intervention -including las week’s exchange- is to empower civil society organisations to use their field knowledge and experience to effectively advocate authorities and lawmakers for new policies.

“Working on drug issues especially at policy level requires coherent messaging. If each civil society organisation stresses different priorities, the end effect will be that they will not be listened to by the relevant decision makers. At the same time, regional organisations will probably not be able to influence much unless they create a coalition,” explains PIN Myanmar Country Director, Petr Drbohlav. “Then not only will their voices be stronger, but also their mandate.” 

Capacity building, monitoring and networking support for CSOs

Furthermore, PIN supports 24 CSOs working on drug issues that provide effective support to communities and individuals, but have limited resources. They have gaps in organisational capacity, research, monitoring and evaluation, thematic knowledge of human rights, and networking with different stakeholders such as labour unions, community based organizations and religious groups.

“We are witnessing how civil society actors increased their engagement and contributions to the field of drug harm reduction implementation at regional and local levels when they interact in a structured dialogue with a variety of power holders,” says PIN’s project manager, Monika Šikulová.

Members of seven CSOs from Mon and Kayin State, who PIN has supported since 2016, organised a landmark meeting with three ethnic armed groups in the town of Hpa-An to discuss drug abuse related issues in both states earlier this month. Together they led an open debate and exchanged experiences related to community interventions on drug prevention, treatment and care. This is a strategic step forward as armed groups actually control and manage some areas and have been historically linked to drug issues. Following this and meetings with other relevant stakeholders, CSOs will soon publish and promote joint state-level recommendations to be considered as policy alternatives by authorities and members of parliament in the area. 

About the “Creating a space for the participation of Myanmar’s civil society in policy dialogue” project

People in Need encourages civil society participation in public affairs and political dialogue in the Mandalay region and in Kayin, Mon and Shan states through a project funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

Alongside its implementation partners (Loka Ahlinn and the European Partnership for Democracy), PIN has worked to improve relations between local CSOs and representatives of regional parliaments, local government bodies and the media. PIN has been able to support activists by co-organising trainings on topics like advocacy techniques, project design, managerial skills and strategic alliances; providing grants; and campaigning together.

The main objective is to boost civil society’s work, not only to convey information about local community needs and problems, but also to put more pressure on government officials to make the necessary legislative changes to transform the political environment.

About People in Need

People in Need (PIN) was established in 1992 by a group of Czech war correspondents who were no longer satisfied with relaying information about ongoing conflicts and began sending out aid. Throughout the 26 years of its existence, it has established itself as a professional humanitarian and development organisation striving to provide aid in times of distress. People in Need has been working in Myanmar since 1997 when the organisation began to support members of civil democratic groups. Now its programs focus primarily on knowledge transfer, capacity building and support of local initiatives. Thematic areas include land rights, social cohesion programming promoting tolerance and acceptance of diversity communities, child protection and humanitarian aid in areas affected by armed conflicts.

For more information get in touch with:

Petr Drbohlav, PIN Myanmar Country Director, +95 9420014432, Petr.Drbohlav@peopleinneed.cz

Monika Sikulova, PIN Programme Manager, +95 9778565046, Monika.Sikulova@peopleinneed.cz

Maung Htun, Loka Ahlinn Programme Manager, +95 973034870 education@lokaahlinn.com  

Author: People in Need