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Myanmar: UN warns hundreds of thousands affected by aid disruption in Rakhine state

A mother and her children stand in their small hut in a camp for displaced people in Rakhine State.
OCHA/Michelle Delaney
A mother and her children stand in their small hut in a camp for displaced people in Rakhine State.

Myanmar: UN warns hundreds of thousands affected by aid disruption in Rakhine state

The United Nations humanitarian wing is warning that life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been seriously disrupted following the recent attacks on the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Life-saving assistance to displaced people, isolated villages and Rakhine communities have been seriously disrupted,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated in a news release. “The provision of water, health services, food, and protection are of particular concern.”

The UN is working with the Myanmar authorities to ensure that conditions are put in place to allow humanitarian groups to resume the operations that were taking place prior to the attacks in the state capital, Sittwe, which led to the relocation of more than 170 staff and severe damage to more than a dozen premises.

“What happened in Sittwe last week was not just an attack on international organizations, but an attack on the entire humanitarian response in Rakhine state,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Renata Dessallien.

“We have had constructive discussions with the Myanmar authorities, who have assured us that their international obligations to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff will be met,” she stated.

“Our main priority now is to work with the Government to put the necessary conditions in place to allow more than 1,000 humanitarian staff to get back to work to assist vulnerable people from all communities.”

According to OCHA, the immediate effects of the disruption of humanitarian services is already being felt in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and isolated villages in Rakhine state, which has witnessed waves of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

It is currently the peak of the dry season and water availability could reach critical levels within a week in some IDP camps, particularly in Pauktaw, the Office noted.

In addition, nearly 15,000 children in IDP camps no longer have access to psycho-social support, while life-saving therapeutic treatment for more than 300 children with severe acute malnutrition in Sittwe has been suspended. A total of 1,300 metric tonnes of food will need to be distributed in Rakhine within the next two weeks, which will be a challenge in the absence of the NGOs as implementing partners.

“International NGOs are extremely concerned about the impact of the recent violence against the humanitarian community, especially international NGOs in Rakhine, and the severe reduction of activities which support thousands of displaced and vulnerable people,” said Kelland Stevenson, Country Director for Save the Children.

“Without the immediate and full restoration of an enabling and secure environment to re-establish essential life-saving assistance, the humanitarian situation will rapidly deteriorate, putting children and their families at even greater risk.”

OCHA noted that the violence on 26 and 27 March, during which UN and NGO offices, living quarters, and warehouses were seriously damaged or looted, was the culmination of months of increasing intimidation and harassment of humanitarian staff and local suppliers by a vocal minority of the Rakhine community.

In a telephone call with Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein, on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Government to ensure the safety and security of all humanitarian workers and their property in the wake of the attacks, and stressed that impunity cannot be tolerated in the context of the country’s reform process.