Violence in Sittwe in late March directed at humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross, has disrupted the ICRC’s efforts to strengthen the health-care system in Rakhine state and assist the Muslim and Ethnic Rakhine communities in need.

Violence against humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC and the Myanmar Red Cross in Sittwe in late March, is impeding the ICRC’s efforts to help both Muslim and ethnic Rakhine communities affected by communal violence. Jürg Montani, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Yangon, explains how the unrest has left thousands of people without aid.

In the north-east of the country, where sporadic fighting has been reported, the ICRC opened an office in Kachin state capital Myitkyina in March and is gradually increasing the magnitude and scope of its humanitarian activities.

Communities need assistance in Rakhine

Both ethnic Rakhine and Muslim communities affected by communal violence in Rakhine have seen their access to essential services such as health care significantly reduced. Income streams and the availability of clean water, food and fuel have also been hit. The ICRC has been seeking to tackle a broad range of the problems facing these communities.

“Despite the tensions, we are committed to continuing our support to the needy on both sides of the communal divide in Rakhine,” said Jürg Montani, head of the ICRC delegation in Myanmar. “We are in regular contact with members of both communities, who reiterate their understanding of and support for the ICRC’s work, which is based on the principles of impartiality and independence.”

Working closely with the authorities and the Myanmar Red Cross, the ICRC has provided emergency medical evacuation services to people with life-threatening conditions since the outbreak of communal violence in 2012. Just over 100 patients a month were taken to Sittwe hospital for treatment in the first quarter of the year. “Unfortunately, these and other services are now running at a reduced capacity following the violence in March. We stand ready to fully resume our humanitarian activities as soon as the security situation allows,” said Mr Montani.

Some activities are ongoing in Rakhine. Medicines and medical consumables continue to be supplied to the state’s ministry of health for use in Sittwe hospital, township hospitals and mobile clinics. The ICRC also pays transport allowances for more than 40 midwives, enabling them to work in remote communities with limited health-care services. The organization continues to help provide clean water for displaced people and resident communities on Pauktow Island, by furnishing fuel for water deliveries and to run water pumping facilities.

However, more long-term structural work to improve health-care facilities, such as the overhaul of the water supply, sanitation and medical waste disposal systems in four township hospitals, has had to be placed on hold.

Biodegradable fuel sticks made of rice husk are due to be provided to communities living in isolated camps on Pauktow Island in advance of the upcoming rainy season, when it is difficult to find even small quantities of dry firewood. These distributions will recommence once the security situation allows, as will livelihood support programmes, through which the ICRC provides grants in kind and cash for small business ventures, will recommence once the security situation allows. The exact support depends on the person receiving it, but has included fishing equipment, livestock, supplies needed to set up grocery shops, and tricycle taxis. Up to 20,000 people are set to benefit across the state.

Kachin and eastern states

The ICRC has launched a series of projects in the north-east aimed at strengthening the health-care system.

Work has begun to modernize three Kachin hospitals in Laiza, Majayan and Bhamao, which provide services for displaced people in both government- and non-government-controlled areas. This includes upgrades to power, water supply, sanitary and medical waste disposal facilities. In tandem, the ICRC has launched different training initiatives with the health ministry to boost staff expertise, such as a series of workshops on the surgical treatment of weapon-caused injuries held for doctors in Kachin and Shan states.

In addition, the ICRC is working with the Kachin health authorities to build and run a centre in Myitkyina hospital that will provide artificial limbs and other services for physically disabled people living in Myanmar’s north. Landmines and unexploded ordnance are a serious issue in Myanmar and continue to claim victims. In Hpa-an, where the Myanmar Red Cross runs an ICRC-supported physical rehabilitation centre, over 60 per cent of people fitted with an artificial limb are landmine survivors.

Visits to detainees

So far in 2014, the ICRC has conducted nine prison visits in different parts of Myanmar to monitor treatment and conditions, with the full cooperation of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ICRC has supported the efforts of the authorities to improve the water supply system and other core facilities in eight prisons holding a total of 15,000 detainees.

Family visits were arranged for a number of detainees whose families live far from the place they are held, while other detainees were given the opportunity to contact their loved ones through written Red Cross messages.

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

Link: http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/update/2014/04-24-myanmar-rakhine-health-care.htm?