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Myanmar: Stepping up humanitarian response to persistent needs

08-07-2013 News Release 13/124

Geneva/Yangon (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is expanding its efforts in Myanmar to improve prison conditions and help those suffering from armed conflict and other violence. Severe unrest in Rakhine state over the last year has disrupted several hundred thousand lives, leaving people without homes and livelihoods and severely reducing access to health care.

"Conflict and other violence in Myanmar have generated huge humanitarian needs," said Alain Aeschlimann, the ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. "Hundreds of people have died or been injured, and many arrested. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, and communities struggle to obtain essential services."

In an appeal issued to its donors, the ICRC is requesting 8.5 million Swiss francs (8.82 million US dollars) in additional funding, which brings the organization's total budget for the country in 2013 to 15.6 million francs (16.4 million US dollars). The funds will mainly be used to assist those hardest hit by intercommunal violence and tensions in Rakhine state, western Myanmar. Following the resumption of its detention visits in January 2013, the ICRC is also stepping up its technical support to the authorities to improve detention conditions. Elsewhere, in conflict-affected Kachin and northern Shan states, where tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly been displaced, the organization is exploring ways to enhance health-care delivery.

"We have gradually increased the scope of our humanitarian activities in response to these needs over the last year, expanding our presence in the most violence-stricken parts of the country and resuming prison visits," said Mr Aeschlimann. "The ICRC president’s visit to Myanmar in January, when he met President Thein Sein and other senior officials, was a landmark. Our aim now is to consolidate these achievements and to keep expanding our activities in Myanmar to reach more people in need."

In Rakhine state, where violence first broke out in June 2012, the ICRC is helping to restore basic health-care services in the most tension-prone townships. Joint ICRC and Myanmar Red Cross teams have transported nearly 900 people from both Muslim and ethnic Rakhine communities to Sittwe Referral Hospital for emergency care and consultations since January. "The wounded and the sick are often unable to cross communal lines to reach clinics and hospitals," said Mr Aeschlimann. "We are improving sanitation and upgrading water supply systems in health-care facilities for the benefit of everyone, regardless of their origins. We are also finding ways to restore preventive-care services, for example by helping midwives to return to rural villages they had been forced to leave because of violence."

Intercommunal violence and the tensions and fear it generates have caused incomes to drop. "The livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people across a vast area have been disrupted. Communities barely mix anymore. That means less trade, less access to the land for farming, less fishing and fewer income opportunities for casual labour," said Mr Aeschlimann. "The ICRC plans to help more than 15,000 people in Rakhine state to recover their ability to earn and maintain an income."

Cash-for-work projects are being tailor-made for individual communities. In Pauktaw and Rathedaung townships, for example, projects focus on improving village infrastructure, including roads, water ponds and irrigation facilities. In addition, ICRC engineers have improved water and sanitary facilities and shelters for some 7,000 people in camps for the displaced and villages in Sittwe township, and are responding to other urgent needs as they arise.

Over the last six months, the ICRC has conducted six prison visits in different parts of Myanmar to monitor treatment and conditions. During these visits, ICRC staff tour the premises and talk in private with the detainees of their choice. They only discuss findings and recommendations concerning detainee welfare with the authorities concerned, as part of a regular and constructive dialogue. Support provided by the ICRC for prison authorities to help them improve living conditions has thus far resulted in upgrades to water and sanitary facilities in four prisons housing a total of 14,000 people. "We work closely with the detaining authorities to establish where our expertise is most needed," said Mr Aeschlimann. "We will also provide the prison health-care system with essential drugs and supplies to ensure that appropriate medical treatment is available for detainees."

In February, the ICRC conducted an initial visit to conflict-affected Kachin state in northern Myanmar, where it delivered essential medical equipment to three hospitals in opposition- and government-held areas. "We are exploring ways to support both emergency and basic medical services in the area and to improve health infrastructure so that suitable services will be available to everyone who needs them. There is also a need to enhance physical rehabilitation services for landmine victims in the area," said Mr Aeschlimann. The ICRC currently supports four physical rehabilitation centres in various parts of the country run by the ministry of health or the Myanmar Red Cross. The centres have provided services for almost 2,000 physically disabled people since the beginning of the year.

For further information, please contact:
Giuseppe Pogliari, ICRC Yangon, tel: +95 9 420 107 606
Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 244 64 70


Photos

A team leader briefs volunteers from the Myanmar Red Cross Society before they leave for the IDP camps to which they have been assigned. 

Rakhine State, Myanmar.
A team leader briefs volunteers from the Myanmar Red Cross Society before they leave for the IDP camps to which they have been assigned.
© ICRC / A. Moy / v-p-mm-e-00122

The ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross make sure displaced people from both Muslim and Rakhine communities have clean water, in order to prevent the spread of water-borne disease. 

Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
The ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross make sure displaced people from both Muslim and Rakhine communities have clean water, in order to prevent the spread of water-borne disease.
© ICRC / A. Myo / v-p-mm-e-00127

An emergency evacuation team transfers a young child from a health post in the camp to Sittwe hospital. 

Thee Chaung Camp, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
An emergency evacuation team transfers a young child from a health post in the camp to Sittwe hospital.
© ICRC / A. Myo / v-p-mm-e-00133

A volunteer from the Kachin Branch of the Myanmar Red Cross and a volunteer from the camp change the dressing of a man in the mobile clinic opened by the Ministry of Health. 

IDP camp, Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
A volunteer from the Kachin Branch of the Myanmar Red Cross and a volunteer from the camp change the dressing of a man in the mobile clinic opened by the Ministry of Health.
© ICRC / A. Myo / v-p-mm-e-00136

Displaced persons gather around an ICRC delegate and a Myanmar Red Cross water and sanitation engineer as they check a water point installed jointly by the two organizations. 

Thee Chaung Camp, near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
Displaced persons gather around an ICRC delegate and a Myanmar Red Cross water and sanitation engineer as they check a water point installed jointly by the two organizations.
© ICRC / A. Myo / v-p-mm-e-00146

ICRC president Peter Maurer visits the camp. The humanitarian situation in Rakhine State continues to be a source of concern to the ICRC. 

IDP camp, near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar.
ICRC president Peter Maurer visits the camp. The humanitarian situation in Rakhine State continues to be a source of concern to the ICRC.
© ICRC / v-p-mm-e-00155