Myanmar continues to face significant humanitarian challenges related to the recent crisis in Rakhine, such as mass displacement and lack of access to basic services. Furthermore, it faces challenges related to the long standing conflicts in parts of the country and is also highly prone to natural disasters.
In August 2017, Myanmar was stricken by dramatic events. Government forces intervened after several police stations in Rakhine state had been attacked by ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army). The resulting campaign led to a major humanitarian crisis during which hundreds of people died, were raped or went missing, villages were burned to the ground and a mass displacement of the Rohingya people began. More than 722,000 people fled to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to 887 000. They were left without any access to food and basic services. Since September 2017, People in Need has been assisting people who have been displaced from their homes or suffer from other problems as a result of the conflict through a local partner organization. At the same time, we actively help in neighboring Bangladesh.
The conflict intensified in April 2018 in the state of Kachin, also resulting in the displacement of several thousand people that People in Need is assisting in WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and providing shelter for through KBC (Kachin Baptist Convention) (Those who stayed are still trapped in the area of armed conflicts. In Kachin State People in Need has already been providing humanitarian assistance in 2012 and 2013 mainly in medical and food security sectors.
In the past, we have provided immediate humanitarian assistance after natural disasters. In 2015 Cyclone Komen affected over 1.6 million inhabitants of Myanmar with 330,000 families having to flee their homes. Additionally in 2008 Myanmar was struck by Cyclone Nargis which took lives of 140,000 people, one of the most tragic events in recent times. As a consequence of the cyclones, several million people found themselves in a state of emergency. After these events, we helped local people restore their ruined livelihoods – e.g. fishing, farming and small businesses. In 2010 and 2011 People in Need supported internally displaced people living on the Thai and Myanmar border, for example by providing access to medical assistance.
Supporting internally displaced people in Rakhine
In Rakhine state People in Need has been working since 2012. Originally, PIN focused mainly on supporting civil societies and the dialogue between the members of ethnic and religious groups as well as helping people after devastating floods.
The humanitarian crisis in Rakhine worsened after attacks on police posts in August 2017 and the subsequent security operations by Government forces led to mass displacement. The violence caused hundreds of casualties and resulted in the burning of villages. Over 850,000 people felt unsafe and their fear drove them out of their homes.
The high number of refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people) reflects the severity of the situation in the northern region of Rakhine state. Therefore, People in Need decided to help the people who had to leave their homes and lost their property. Nearly 200,000 people literally remain trapped in villages without access to local market, humanitarian aid and medical care. For that reason, since September 2017, People in Need has been working in northern Rakhine. Through local partner organizations, People in Need organized the distribution of food and hygiene kits, and helped families to improve shelters. So far, we have helped thousands of families in Rakhine and we seek to continue helping others.
Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in May 2008 took the lives of more than 140,000 people. An additional 100,000 found themselves suddenly without shelter, lost their livelihoods and remained with no access to basic needs such as food or water. Altogether around 2.5 million people were severely affected.
People in Need took immediate action one week after the cyclone. In the first phase, People in Need concentrated on providing emergency aid in response to urgent humanitarian needs. Through local partners, PIN distributed food, drinking water, purification tablets, clothing and tarpaulins for construction of temporary shelters. Later PIN focused on restarting livelihoods of fishermen, farmers and small retailers.
Population of the rural areas in the afflicted regions received skills trainings and were provided with boats, nets and farm animals. In cooperation with local partners, sources of drinking water, shelters and basic infrastructure such as piers, roads, culverts and schools were reconstructed.
Parallel to the reconstruction process, a psycho-social support program was launched acknowledging that its timely provision is the key to preventing trauma and long-term psychological disorders in areas stricken by catastrophe.
Supporting internally displaced persons
Animosity between different ethnic groups in Kachin State, which had been bubbling under the surface for decades again flared into conflict in 2011. Apart from hundreds of dead on both sides, civil war has also caused the displacement of another 50 thousand Kachins who live near the border with China. While some of them fled to areas on the Chinese side of the border, others remain nearer their devastated homes or have ended up in overcrowded refugee camps in Myanmar. These people have lost not only their homes, but also their source of livelihood and their children (who account for 40% of displaced persons) face an uncertain future, unable to continue in their schooling.
In cooperation with their partners, People in Need has provided shelters and the essentials for life to over 5,000 internally displaced persons. It has focused aid at refugees behind the Chinese border and in camps within territory under the control of the Kachins, while always concentrating on the most disadvantaged groups of refugees: mothers, the elderly and children. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian aid, we also arranged interim education for children of school age. In cooperation with our partners, we set up six schools in the vicinity of the camp and saw to it that the schoolchildren were able to attend. These projects were financed mainly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and by the People in Need Club of Friends.
Cross-border Humanitarian Aid
In the vast areas along the south-eastern and eastern frontiers of Myanmar, on top of the armed conflict, the local population has struggled against malaria and malnutrition due to that fact that virtually no system of state-run health care exists. Virtually the only providers of healthcare are local community organizations, often coordinated from exile in Thailand. Some of these organizations have built stationary clinics within Myanmar, while others have helped in areas where it is not possible to work in this way due to security concerns by providing medical care via mobile health teams.
People in Need has worked systematically with these organizations. Since 2010, it supported several groups providing healthcare to more than 300,000 inhabitants of these border regions who have been constantly endangered by the unstable situation in the area. Apart from that, People in Need supported stationary clinics in stabilized areas as well – several dozens of which were provided with medicines and other medical materials (primarily antimalarial drugs). PIN also supported a construction of a health clinic in Shan State, which primarily serves internally displaced people.
Emergency Flood Response in the Rakhine state
PIN, in cooperation with a local partner, distributed equipment and furniture (including tables, chairs, black boards, bookshelves) to 20 schools that were affected by Cyclone Komen and assisted the construction of a temporary learning space in a village in Northern Rakhine. Given the complexity of relations between different ethnic groups, all humanitarian aid takes place under strict conditions and PIN promotes an approach based on neutrality and inclusiveness.
Humanitarian Aid in Kachin State
In cooperation with our partner organizations, PIN provided food and nutritious food supplements, assisted with the construction of temporary schools and shelters, improved access to drinking water as well as support for alternative livelihoods.
Our help targeted primarily the most disadvantaged groups of IDPs: pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, the elderly and children.