Improving living conditions for Myanmar’s displaced

Improving living conditions for Myanmar’s displaced

May 31, 2021

Residents of Rakhine State, a remote part of Myanmar that has been the site of intense fighting between the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF) and the Arakan Army (AA) since December 2018, have recently enjoyed several months of relative calm. And yet, thousands of people who fled their villages in the midst of the conflict continue to live in Rakhine’s monasteries and makeshift camps for internally displaced people (IDP). With their homes destroyed or occupied by soldiers, and with unexploded land mines still littering roads and the surrounding forests and rice paddies, Rakhine’s residents continue to fear returning home. 

Strengthening the resilience of the displaced

With funding from UNICEF, People in Need (PIN), together with community volunteers, has been working to strengthen the resilience of displaced communities in Minbya and Mrauk U Townships in Central Rakhine State. The initiative seeks to improve access to safe sanitation facilities and critical Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) supplies and services. As part of this project, PIN is targeting nine IDP camps in Minbya Township. Some of these camps are makeshift, while others have been set up in Buddhist monasteries.

Prior to implementation of any activity, PIN’s WASH team conducts a needs assessment, either on site or, if not otherwise possible, remotely. PIN also coordinates and cooperates with other WASH partners in the region to identify the needs of beneficiaries.

With the COVID-19 restrictions put in place by local authorities, and additional complications resulting from the military coup in February 2021, PIN’s field team has struggled to access some of the IDP camps, necessitating that some activities at inaccessible sites are conducted remotely.

Safe latrines for women and children

By providing WASH assistance, PIN is helping to protect vulnerable groups, such as women and children, who face special challenges in the camps. PIN has constructed and rehabilitated gender-segregated latrines and built female bathing spaces. All structures have been designed and built in accordance with WASH guidelines.

Ma San San*, 15, lives in the IDP camp which is located in a local monastery. “I have lived in the camp with my grandmother for a year now, and during this time, PIN has distributed hygiene kits, including soap and washing powders, which were really useful for us,” she says. “We feel safe using the latrines and bathing spaces built by PIN and UNICEF. Previously, we had no separated space for bathing. Our tent is near one of the paths where people walk, so I was afraid that someone coming along the street would see me bathing. I felt shy. But now, I feel better using the new bathing space and latrine.”

Improving conditions via cash-for-work

The monsoon season in Rakhine State is approaching and most IDP camps will be at high risk of flooding. IDP camps may require additional emergency shelter and rehabilitation of the latrines, tube wells, and water collection systems. Using a cash-for-work approach, people from the IDP camps are working on PIN’s construction works, rehabilitating the existing latrines in the camps and constructing female bathing stations, handwashing stations, pathways, and lighting under the supervision of PIN’s emergency team members.

Daw Khaing Kyawt*, 53, who lives in the IDP camp close to Minbya Township with her six children, is among them. “I am working with PIN as part of the cash-for-work activity in the camp. I am helping with the construction of pathways to the latrines by carrying sand and brick, and sometimes digging. I receive 8,000 kyats (approximately 0.5 USD) per day. I am happy to earn money so that I can buy the things I need for my children, even though some organisations have provided aid distributions.”

Like many IDPs, Daw Khaing Kyawt* was forced to flee her village due to the escalation of fighting between the MAF and the AA. The IDP camp is in a Buddhist monastery, and provides only limited space. “We arrived here in June of last year. Everything is basically okay, because we are residing in the Buddhist monastery. But we have a big family and need some private space. When the monsoon season comes, the Buddhist monastery will be busy with religious festivals, and our living space will be even more limited,” she adds.

Hygiene kits and handwashing stations

In addition to the construction of latrines and female bathing spaces, PIN has distributed 3,978 hygiene kits, including jerry cans and buckets, to 1,947 households.

PIN is also working to install 22 handwashing stations in 10 schools, and eight handwashing stations in nine IDP camps, to reach a total of 5,238 children. Additionally, PIN will distribute 2,239 water collection and storage kits to households and will equip several IDP sites with pumping systems and wells.

Staying positive despite the challenges

Ma Chay*, a 30-year-old mother of two currently living in the IDP camp in rural area of Minbya Township, says, “How can I say everything will be okay in the camp? If aid organisations come and provide us with humanitarian assistance, we are okay. If they don’t, who can we ask for help? We have been here for a year now. If we were able to work, we could easily earn money. But due to the situation with COVID-19, we cannot leave the camp.”

Nonetheless, Ma Chay* remains positive: “Even if we cannot go back to our village, I feel safe here. PIN provided us with a jerry can and a bucket for water storage, and built the latrines and bathing spaces. I always feel safe when I use these facilities. Even if things get more difficult, I must try to survive with my children. I would like to thank PIN and the donors.”

*The names of certain individuals have been changed for protection purposes.

**PIN is vague about specific locations of our activities to preserve safety and security of our staff, partners, and beneficiaries and in benefit of life-saving aid.

Author: Aye Pyae Sone, PIN Myanmar Communication Officer