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Myanmar: UN warns of humanitarian crisis amid continued inter-communal tensions

OCHA Operations Director John Ging.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
OCHA Operations Director John Ging.

Myanmar: UN warns of humanitarian crisis amid continued inter-communal tensions

Ahead of the monsoon season set to start in Myanmar in May, a senior United Nations humanitarian official today called for urgent help for more than 125,000 people displaced by inter-communal fighting in Rakhine state, a region he had just visited.

Speaking to journalists in New York, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, said tens of thousands of displaced people who are living on what are effectively paddy fields will be completely submerged once the rains hit in less than two months.

“A solution needs to be found to relocate those people and also to see the return and the freedom of movement for all the internally displaced persons (IDPs) so they can begin to recover their lives and their livelihoods,” Mr. Ging stated.

Mr. Ging, who returned from a four-day mission to Myanmar and the Philippines, said he was also concerned about the serious intimidation of aid workers, particularly threats targeting national staff members, and urged the Government officials with whom he met to correct misperceptions about aid delivery in Rakhine.

“We have been asking them to do more,” Mr. Ging said, noting that officials are not blocking access but need to do more to facilitate gaining access both in terms of security and logistics.

He called on the Government to resume coordination with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has offered to help all those affected by the violence.

“The offer of the OIC to provide assistance to both communities without distinction positions them to be an important part of the solution,” Mr. Ging said in a statement, recalling commitments he received from the OIC leadership during a recent visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The Director of Operations also expressed concern about the lack of progress in reducing inter-communal tensions since his last visit in August 2012.

Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the first of which occurred in June 2012, displaced families in the country’s western region and left more than 100 people dead.

“Last year, I emphasized that the communal tensions in Rakhine had the potential to undermine Myanmar’s impressive democratization, peacebuilding and economic reforms and to increase humanitarian suffering,” he said, adding that the corrosive force of these tensions was evident last week when new violence erupted in the central township of Meikhtila, in Mandalay Region, displacing some 12,000 people.

In the Philippines, Mr. Ging visited Compostela Valley in the southern island of Mindanao, where he met with families who lost relatives, crops and homes when Typhoon Bopha hit in December 2012. The typhoon – the biggest storm anywhere in the world in 2012 – killed more than 1,000 people and affected approximately 6.2 million.

Mr. Ging praised the response effort mobilized by the local government and supported by the international community, calling it a “really excellent” model.

He warned, however, that the needs of the local communities should not fall off the international community’s radar. The $76.3 million Bopha response plan is only 42 per cent funded as of 15 March.