Myanmar: Returning to Mindat
As part of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) support team in early March, Ma Thiri Aung remembers meeting a young mother whose family farmed for a living before the clashes changed everything.
"The violence meant they were now displaced, with no jobs, no way to get food, relying only on assistance from others," Ma Thiri Aung says.
"This mother wanted to go back home, where her family could support themselves." Ongoing armed conflict means people in Chin State continue to face the ordeal of having to leave their homes in search of safety.
Thousands of people have been displaced as a result of fighting in recent months. Mindat is too high up in the mountains to cultivate rice, relying on food transports from other parts of Myanmar. But ongoing clashes make travel less safe – roads are mined or bridges damaged – threatening food supplies.
"When communities hear the Red Cross are coming, their main hope is rice," says Aye Thantar Tun, who led the ICRC team.
Over nine days in early March, we worked alongside the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) to distribute much-needed food and other essential items to nearly 2000 people – including rice, oil and salt needed for cooking.
In the monasteries and churches of Mindat where people are seeking shelter, we supplied families with basic rations, hygiene supplies, materials for shelter construction and information to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.
As clashes continue across Chin State, we also talked with communities about the risks posed by landmines and other explosive hazards.
We worked with the community to make sure awareness of these threats would be accessible to all – putting up billboards and sharing educational cartoons for children.
From Mindat, the sound of clashes can sometimes be heard in this former tourist town. Being surrounded by violence, and displaced, can leave invisible scars. Going forward, supporting mental health care is also crucial.
"Even as people spoke, I could hear their worries in every sentence," says Aye Thantar Tun. "They have been traumatized by what's going on."
While responding to existing needs, we also need to plan for futures ones. Surrounded by mountains, Mindat is very cold in winter and very hot in summer. In the rainy season, it is also prone to landslides.
This exposure to the elements, endangers safe and sustainable access to water – via water pipelines already damaged by fighting – as well as to supplies of food and medicine as roads risk becoming blocked.
Operating alongside our ICRC teams, a mobile health clinic, run by the MRCS, has proved a crucial way of ensuring people have access to medicine despite these overlapping challenges of access.
The humanitarian needs of people impacted by fighting in Chin State continue to grow. Together with the MRCS, so will our support. We hope to return to Mindat again soon – to continue helping those in greatest need.