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Myanmar: Hardships abound in violence-stricken Rakhine state

13-11-2013 Operational Update No 01/13

Sporadic intercommunal violence and continuing tensions mean essential services are out of reach for many in Rakhine state. The ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross Society are helping the local authorities to rebuild livelihoods for people affected on both sides of the communal divide.

"The violence has affected both the Muslim and the ethnic Rakhine communities. Livelihoods have been severely damaged, and access to clean water and health care has been significantly reduced. People have also been arrested in connection with the violence," said Bart Vermeiren, deputy head of the ICRC’s delegation in Yangon. "We provide humanitarian assistance to both communities, not favouring one over another, without discrimination."

Providing essential health care

Since violence broke out last year, the ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross have been running an on-demand hospital transport service within Sittwe township that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is for anyone needing emergency care whose movement is restricted by curfew or because they are unable to cross communal lines. Once discharged from Sittwe Hospital, patients are taken to their place of residence. The service is part of a system set up with the local health authorities, which approve all patient transfers.

The ICRC works with local health boards to improve access to care for everyone in the state. It has provided Sittwe Hospital, the only referral centre in the state, with a new water tower and pumping station that will guarantee clean water supply. In addition, it has donated essential medicines, equipment and supplies, is overhauling the sewage system and plans to refurbish the emergency and outpatients department. Similar work is planned in six other township hospitals in the state.

The organization supports rural health centres and seeks to prevent illness by, for example, donating mosquito nets to pregnant women. Every month, it covers transport costs for nearly 180 midwives so they can reach remote areas that have limited health-care services.

Helping people help themselves

The ICRC runs projects promoting the development of income sources. These projects, designed jointly with the people they are intended to help, range from distributing fishing kits and providing agricultural support to delivering fuel sticks to compensate for a lack of firewood. With the colder season now beginning in Rakhine state, the ICRC intends to distribute blankets for the neediest people in both communities, as well as household essentials and winter crop seed and farming tools for vegetable production.

The organization also supports the efforts of rural communities to improve infrastructure through cash-for-work schemes.

In addition, because access to water is reduced in resettlement areas, camps and violence-affected villages, the ICRC upgrades water sources and, together with the Myanmar Red Cross, delivers water by truck in Sittwe centre.

Visiting detainees

The violence in Rakhine led to a number of arrests. As elsewhere in the country, the ICRC visits places of detention and holds  bilateral discussions with the authorities on detention conditions. Where needed, it upgrades water and sanitation infrastructure and works to improve access to health care for detainees. It also enables detainees to remain in contact with their relatives. In Rakhine state, the ICRC recently carried out a visit to Thandwe Prison, in addition to places of detention in Sittwe and Buthidaung.

For further information, please contact:
Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 33 45 or +41 79 244 64 70
David-Pierre Marquet, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 02 or +41 79 536 92 48