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Myanmar: Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?

25 November 2014 - 10:14pm
Source: Inter Press Service Country: Myanmar

By Amantha Perera

YANGON, Nov 23 2014 (IPS) - Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by military rule.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy.

The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 19–25 November

25 November 2014 - 10:29am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen

Pakistan: Drought conditions in Sindh have affected nearly 1.7 million people; nearly 500 have died in Tharparkar, including 296 children. In FATA, the number of people displaced by the military’s operation Khyber One in the Tirah Valley has grown to 440,000 people, adding to 993,000 displaced by operations in North Waziristan.

Liberia: Two million children are thought to be affected by the consequences of the Ebola epidemic. High levels of unemployment are affecting income: 70% of households in a recent survey said they do not have enough money to afford food.

South Sudan: About 10,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled fighting in Southern Kordofan and are in need of humanitarian assistance in Nhialdu, Unity state. A new estimate has put the death toll from the conflict in South Sudan at 50,000 since December 2013.

Updated: 25/11/2014. Next update: 02/12/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface c

Bangladesh: Bangladesh's Rohingya camps - promise or peril?

25 November 2014 - 6:37am
Source: IRIN Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

COX'S BAZAR, 25 November 2014 (IRIN) - Bangladesh's announcement that it will move two camps housing some 30,000 officially documented Rohingya refugees has heightened anxieties among the Muslim minority, who fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Observers applaud the possibility of improving camp conditions, but are concerned the move could also increase insecurity.

On 6 November, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a meeting with the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry, said the camps would be moved to a "better location", which was later described by her press secretary as a larger space. The prime minister reportedly acknowledged that the current camp conditions were "inhumane".

But in the two registered camps jointly administered by the government of Bangladesh and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) - Kutupalong and Nayapara - details remain murky and distrust high as resident Rohingyas have faced decades of ill-treatment in Bangladesh.

"We are worried and confused about the government move to shift the camps," Mohammad Ismail, secretary of Kutupalong refugee camp, told IRIN. "If the relocation is to better places, we welcome the move as we are leading a miserable life here. But we can't be sure."

UNHCR says there are 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, of whom only 32,355 are documented and living in the two camps, both within 2km of Myanmar. Most live in informal settlements or towns and cities in what Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) described as "deplorable conditions".

A 2013 government "Rohingya Strategy" charted vague plans for handling the refugees - including building new camps for the unregistered masses. But discrepancies between Bangladesh's humanitarian promises and its behaviour, plus an ongoing influx of Rohingyas as the situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate, means decisions made in Dhaka, like the proposed camp location shift, are met with fear and anxiety among the refugees.

According to UNHCR, the Cox's Bazar camps are overcrowded and a move to avoid congestion is welcome. However, Stina Ljungdell, UNHCR country representative in Bangladesh, told IRIN: "An actual move of the camps would entail substantial financial commitments which may be hard to secure during a time when UNHCR is facing multiple crises and more displaced people than ever, all over the world."

But humanitarian agency cooperation or offers of funding have not, historically, solved the problem. For example, Dhaka cancelled a "UN Joint Initiative" to implement livelihoods activities for Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in the Cox's Bazar and Teknaf areas (two of the country's poorest) - with more than US$30 million in aid pledges - in 2010 citing suspicions of the UN's "mala-fide intent to rehabilitate refugees in Cox's Bazar district under the pretext of poverty reduction for locals."

In June 2012 Dhaka barred the then UNHCR country representative from visiting the border regions (part of the agency's routine work) as Rohingyas attempted to escape communal violence in Myanmar. The following month, Dhaka ordered three prominent international NGOs - MSF, Action Against Hunger (ACF), and Muslim Aid - to cease aid to the Rohingyas in and around Cox's Bazaar. And in October of that year, following the second bout of communal violence, UNHCR called for Bangladesh to open its borders to offer refuge to those fleeing, but Dhaka refused.

Kumar Baul, head of Myanmar Refugee Cell at Bangladesh's Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said the ministry's top officials will "sit soon to discuss the relocation", but he declined to comment further. The pressure is expected to continue to mount on Bangladesh as Myanmar's "policies of persecution" towards Rohingyas continue, driving more to cross into Bangladesh.

"The refugees are already in a vulnerable condition. The government should not do anything that can make them more vulnerable," said CR Abrar, coordinator of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) at Dhaka University, explaining that the relocation announcement has created anxieties among the refugees. He argued: "If the government wants to relocate, it must ensure that the refugees get all the facilities they are getting now."

Sixty-year-old Zafar Ahmed, a registered Rohingya refugee who came to Bangladesh in the early 1990s, said he and his family are worried by the announcement. "We don't know where we are heading to and we are confused," he said.

Anti-Rohingya resentment

Anti-Rohingya sentiment is high among Bangladeshi communities living near the camps, sometimes stoked by jealousy that Rohingyas receive food and other aid. Shop owners in Kutupalong markets told IRIN they felt it was more difficult for Bangladeshis to get jobs because Rohingyas could be hired at such low costs.

For Rohingyas, many of whom work informally, this resentment can manifest itself in violent attacks, including local men allegedly raping Rohingya women inside the camps. Sayed Alam, chairman of Kutopalong camp, said: "We are living here in severe insecurity. We will welcome any move to shift our camps to better places."

For those who are unregistered, the risks of daily life are even higher.

"We do not want to live here. We will go anywhere government sends us. Even if they send us back to the sea, we will go," said an unregistered Rohingya who asked not to be named.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an organization that monitors Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh, told IRIN: "For at least 10 years, refugees consistently reported that Bakhtiar [a former local government representative and community leader known by one name] and his gang stole their food rations, beat many of them, and he was even accused of raping a refugee woman."

Unregistered refugees fear being left behind

Meanwhile, rumours are adding to a sense of unease.

"We even heard that our camps will be shifted near a military cantonment and more restriction will be imposed on us," said a Rohingya who works as a volunteer in an aid organization in Kutupalong camp.

"We heard that our camps will be shifted in[to] more disaster-prone areas. One official told me that our camps will be shifted to northern Bangladesh," said another Kutupalong resident who preferred anonymity.

Rohingya camp and community leaders confirmed to IRIN that they have received no official communication from the government about the move.

Unregistered Rohingyas, who live in squalid informal settlements near the registered camps, are concerned they may be left behind.

"If the government shifts the camps, they will shift the registered camps. Where will we go then?" Abdul Hafez, chairman of the non-registered Rohingya committee in Kutupalong camp, told IRIN. Around 42,000 unregistered Rohingyas live next to the Kutupalong refugee camp in appalling conditions. According to UNHCR, for much of their stay in Bangladesh (in some cases decades), unregistered Rohingyas have borrowed food rations from registered camp residents, resulting in malnutrition among both groups.

"We welcome any move if the unregistered Rohingyas are also shifted," he said.

UNHCR told IRIN that, as far as it was aware, the current government plans do not include any consideration of unregistered refugees.

"I can only hope that any relocation for Rohingya refugees, especially those from Kutupalong, would indeed be a better location and that they would not be subject to more restrictions by the authorities or persecution by local goons," said Lewa.

Rohingyas, a Muslim, linguistic and ethnic minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State, have been subject to state-sanctioned persecution for decades. Two bouts of communal violence in 2012 sparked the exodus of more than 100,000 from Myanmar to date; 140,000 are currently interned in camps there; around 800,000 remain in villages with extremely limited movement. Myanmar rejects their citizenship and their name itself, and recently condemned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for saying "Rohingya" during the November Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Myanmar.

World: Working paper: Equity and inclusion in disaster risk reduction: building resilience for all

25 November 2014 - 4:48am
Source: Climate and Development Knowledge Network Country: Bangladesh, Chile, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Myanmar, Niger, World

Policy-makers and international agencies are currently negotiating the details of the successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), which is to be agreed at Sendai, Japan in March 2015. The zero draft of the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR) now explicitly promotes the integration of gender, age, disability and cultural perspectives into DRR. It acknowledges the need to manage differential levels of vulnerability and exposure, and the need to empower vulnerable groups to participate in decision-making and implementation. The draft does not say, however, how progress on social and cultural dimensions (including poverty, gender, age, and disability) will be promoted and accounted for, or by whom. Our recent analysis of the pre-zero and zero drafts highlights that they are still lacking language and requirements that would help create/enforce stronger accountability for action on social inclusion and adequate attention to social vulnerability (including within the monitoring process). This analysis acknowledges the necessary contributions of different social groups, but is still not clear what and who will ensure that states allow, promote and build upon the participation of these groups in policy-making processes pertaining to DRR. Questions therefore remain about whether the shortcomings of the HFA will be overcome, particularly in relation to the integration of gender perspectives, social and cultural diversity, and community participation as cross-cutting themes.

This paper, Equity and inclusion in disaster risk reduction: building resilience for all attempts to address some of these shortcomings and to move the debate beyond the simplistic focus of including vulnerable groups within DRR policy-making. By promoting socio-economic and cultural inclusion as well as the political recognition of marginalised people, this paper provides examples of where their participation as active agents of change has proven beneficial in effectively and equitably building resilience. This evidence supports recommendations for the inclusion and empowerment of vulnerable groups throughout the post-2015 framework for DRR.

This paper also makes the case for increased attention to the wider issues of vulnerability, inclusion and empowerment. Attention to these issues is needed to assist policy-makers and international agencies to negotiate the successor agreement to the HFA. In this respect, this paper will focus on four main aspects:

  1. Marginalised groups are more likely to suffer from disasters.
  2. Disasters exacerbate vulnerabilities and social inequalities.
  3. Vulnerable groups tend to be excluded from DRR decision-making, thus making them even more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters.
  4. Vulnerable groups should be included in DRR as active agents of change to effectively and equitably build resilience.

Myanmar: EU to give Myanmar financial support under development programme

24 November 2014 - 9:34pm
Source: New Light of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Yangon, 24 Nov — The European Union and its partners will give Myanmar euro 250 million every year under a strategic cooperation programme from 2014 to 2016, together with loans from EU financial institutions. EU ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia said that EU countries and partner countries of the development programme have made an agreement to give financial support to Myanmar in view of the remarkable progress made under the reform process of the Southeast Asia country.

The EU is contributng its support in six major plans, and this strategic cooperation will boost these plans.

Kobia also said that the partner countries that have contributed to this programme include Germany, Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Italy, Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands and Poland.

U Soe Thane, Union minister at the President Office, said that the pro- gramme came online on 24 November, and euro 30 million will be used for peace-making efforts out of euro 250 million every year. U Soe Thane said: “Euro 31 million will also be used for parliament, the 2015 election, the rule of law and the judicial sys- tem, management, and a census-taking project. This financial support will be useful for the peace-making effort as it is the most funda- mental for the development of the country.”

Allotment of these funds includes euro 70 million each year for a rural development programme; 40 million for the health sector; euro 44 million for education; euro 14 million for trade and economic development; euro 5 million for human rights issues; euro 16 million for civil societies; and euro 1 million for environmental conservation.

The EU ambassador said that the assistance proves that the EU is very optimistic about the future of Myanmar, and sends a message that the EU will cooperate with Myanmar in major reform processes, including the 2015 election.

Khin Yandana/Tin Soe Myanma Alinn

Myanmar: Ceremony held to reunite 80 former child soldiers with parents

24 November 2014 - 9:25pm
Source: New Light of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw, 24 Nov— Under the arrangement of the Commander-in-Chief (Army) Office and the Myanmar Watchdog Report Work Committee, a ceremony to hand over 80 former child soldiers to their parents was held at No 1 Transit Centre in Yangon on Monday.

Brig-Gen Tauk Tun of the Commander-in-Chief (Army) Office and Mr. Bertrand Bainvel, the UNICEF representative in Myanmar, made speeches. Officials presented resignation certif- icates and citizenship scruti- ny cards to the children and handed them over to their parents. Similar ceremonies were held in Y angon. Officials handed over 42 children to their parents on 3 September 2012, 24 children on 15 February 2013, 42 on 7 July 2013, 96 on 18 January 2014, 91 on 1 August 2014 and 109 on 25 September 2014.

Myanmar signed an18-month plan with the United Nations country task force on monitoring and reporting grave violations against children (UNCTFMR) on 27 June 2012 to end the recruitment and use of children as child soldiers. The plan was extended by six more months for the first time on 28 December 2013 and a second time on 28 June 2014. Action was taken against 48 officers and 271 servicemen for recruitment of children.—*Myawady*

Myanmar: Tensions Rise in Kachin, As Army Shells Land Near KIA Posts, IDP Camps

24 November 2014 - 9:14pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN

Tensions continue to rise in Kachin State following last week’s deadly attack by the Burma Army on a Kachin rebel training school and over the weekend the army fired more than a dozen mortar shells that landed close to rebel positions and camps of internally displaced civilians, a rebel spokesman said.

La Nan, a spokesperson of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said the military on Sunday fired nine shells that fell near KIA defense posts and Je Yang camp in the rebel-held area around Laiza, the rebel’s administrative headquarters located on the Burma-China border.

He said the shells landed “very close” near the camp and one exploded inside the camp grounds but no civilians were injured.

The army on Saturday fired six mortar shells at KIA positions situated on the border of Bhamo and Momauk townships, La Nan said, adding that the shells landed within 2 km of Nhkawng Pa camp located in a KIA-controlled area.

Je Yang is home to some 8,000 Kachin villagers who fled their homes, while Nhkawng Pa camp houses some 1,600 displaced people.

Mary Tawn, the director of the Kachin local aid group Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN), condemned the army’s attacks, saying that they had endangered and distressed the Kachin civilians in the camps.

“The refugees are not hurt, but worried and in fear [about the tensions],” she said, adding, “It is unbelievable that the artillery fire fell directly among those refugees in Je Yang camp, where there are thousands of refugees, including children and elders, taking shelter.”

La Nan dismissed the army’s claims that it had fired in self-defense, adding that they “used the local media to release information” blaming the KIA for the outbreak of hostilities.

“Actually it is not an engagement between both sides, as we did not start the shooting, we are just being attacked by heavy mortars,” said La Nan, adding, two of soldiers of KIA Brigade No. 3 area in Momauk were injured due to the artillery shelling on Saturday evening.

Local media outlet 7 Days News quoted a senior officer of the Northern Command as saying, “We did not start [the shooting]. We just fired back some ‘warning shots’.”

A total number of around 100,000 civilians—mostly Kachin, but also Shan and Lisu minorities—have fled their villages since fighting erupted in 2011. More than half reside in small areas under KIA control. During periods of rising tensions incidents, such as shelling, have affected the camps.

The Burma Army is also known for deploying close proximity mortar fire and other forms of intimidation to scare civilian populations away from areas that it wants to bring under its control.

La Nan said the KIA was preparing for the eventuality of an imminent army attack as the current dry season conditions are conducive for supplying military operations, adding that the KIA had also observed notable “army infantry battalion movements on the ground.”

Incident Was ‘Warning Shot’

On Nov. 19, the army surprised cadets carrying out exercises when it fired several shells at a KIA training school some 5 km outside of Laiza. Four Kachin commanders were injured, while 23 trainees were killed belonging to KIA allies, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front; Arakan Army; Chin National Front and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

The army claimed it fired the shells into the grounds where dozens of young men were training in response to a KIA attack on a road construction site in Mansi Township some 70 km to the south. The KIA denied it had carried out an attack there.

Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing told Voice of America in an interview that the shelling of the training ground was still within bounds of the army’s right to act in self-defense, which has been approved by the president.

“There are attacks on us in order to test our strength. So, sometimes we have to hit back at them,” he said. “It is true that our road construction site which was first attacked by them is far from the place where the [shelling] incident happened. But, when we are attacked, we have to fire warning shots to notify responsible persons from their side of the attack. We notified them. That’s exactly how it happened.”

The shelling was the single deadliest attack affecting the KIA since fighting began in 2011, La Nan has said, and the incident has heightened fears that the conflict could escalate again.

The National League for Democracy said in a statement posted on Facebook on Monday that it was “worried about the situation of the refugees, as such incidents could further burden them.”

The party called on both sides to continue “talks at the table, instead of fighting; to stop blaming each other; and to seek justice for those who lost their lives.”

Fighting has intensified in Kachin and northern Shan State in recent months, after national ceasefire agreement talks between the government, army and an alliance of 16 ethnic groups hit a deadlock. The KIA and the TNLA are the only two major armed groups that do not yet have a bilateral ceasefire with Naypyidaw.

Asked why he had not yet met with the KIA leaders, Min Aung Hlaing told VoA that the KIA had to first follow the army’s six-point statement regarding ethnic conflict, which includes demands such as that all armed forces come under the army’s command.

“They don’t normally follow some points in our six-point peace principles… It is meaningless to meet them if the meeting fails to deliver any result. If they really want peace, they should follow some points in our letter of principles,” he said.

China: Asia Pacific Region: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (18 - 24 November 2014)

24 November 2014 - 3:50am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: China, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Philippines

CHINA

Five people were killed and 54 others injured after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in China's Sichuan Province on 22 Nov, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center. A total of 25,000 houses were damaged, affecting about 79,500 people and forcing 6,200 to relocate, according to local authorities. Among the 43 injured, six were in critical condition and another five suffering severe injuries. Eleven medical teams have reached the quake zone, and nearly 10,000 medical and epidemic prevention personnel joined the rescue efforts.

5 deaths

79,500 people affected

The earthquake caused blackouts, closed two highways and affected railway traffic in the region. The Ministry of Civil Affairs delivered relief items to the area and dispersed 50 million yuan (US $8.16 million) to disaster relief efforts.

JAPAN

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in mountainous Nagano Prefecture, central Japan. Initial reports indicate 41 people were injured and over 450 people have voluntarily moved to evacuation centres.

47 houses totally damaged

In Hakuba village, 47 houses were totally damaged. Landslides blocked access to the area and water and electricity supplies were cut in around 1,500 homes. Local authorities are leading search and rescue operations. The Japan Meteorological Agency urged caution over further aftershocks, landslides and the collapse of more buildings.

PHILIPPINES

An armed encounter involving mortar shelling erupted between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in barangay Kabasalan, Pikit municipality, North Cotabato province on 14 Nov. It resulted in two deaths, including a child. As of 16 Nov, over 4,740 people were displaced, 1,735 staying in school facilities while over 2,950 were house-based in six neighbourhoods. The local authorities responded with food distribution and the provincial authorities are planning to augment assistance. Security in the area remains uncertain.

2 deaths

4,740 people displaced

MYANMAR

On 19 Nov media reported one civilian killed in fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army near Laiza, Kachin State. There were reports of further shelling by the Government Army on 22 and 23 Nov near Laiza and Mai Ja Yang. The situation remains tense in the areas of Laiza and in southern Kachin.

1 death

INDONESIA

On 21 Nov, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast around 115 km of northwest of Halmahera Barat, North Maluku Province, according to the Indonesia meteorological agency, BMKG. The earthquake was felt in Halmahera Barat district. There have are no reports of damage.

Ethiopia: Reaching the unreached: ENGAGE TB initiative

24 November 2014 - 2:02am
Source: Citizen News Service Country: Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service - CNS

Photograph is online at: https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/996009_633086303402054_1048253147_n.jpg?oh=f799fbd18971f7b436120982e128c8ab&oe=54DABB2E&__gda__=1427086941_902f88507642f611ef4e46b50941a0fb

(CNS): Despite great strides made in TB care and control over the last few years, the latest data shows that 1/3 of all TB cases are still either not detected or not reported to public health systems. These are people who either seek treatment in the private sector and are not notified to the National TB programmes (NTPs) or have not been diagnosed at all. Some of them would die and all of them would continue to spread TB to others, unless treated. Communities affected by TB are often marginalized--poor people, migrants, injecting drug users, prisoners, refugees, sex workers—and face challenges in securing TB services from public healthcare facilities. Then there are women and children, for whom also it is not easy to access healthcare.

Thomas Joseph of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Global Tuberculosis Programme, told Citizen News Service (CNS) that: "We have to find these missing people by reaching out to them as they are not coming to us on their own for a variety of reasons. We have to get them diagnosed and put on treatment. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can do this best as they are already working with these target groups. So it is easy for them to reach out to this missing population of neglected communities through community health workers and volunteers."

"But the tragedy is that, even though many NGOs may be working on HIV, they are not working on TB. We know that a large number of deaths (one in four) in people living with HIV (PLHIV) are due to TB, which is treatable and curable and not because of HIV, which is not curable. If NGOs working with PLHIV can integrate TB care and control in their existing programmes, it will dramatically reduce these unnecessary deaths” said Thomas.

He added: "Another neglected population is that of women. TB affects the health of the mother and the unborn child. In case of pregnant women, TB doubles the risk of low birth weight of infants, which is predictive of a host of other health problems in later life. It also doubles the risk of premature birth, increases 10-fold the risk of fetal death, and doubles the risk of vaginal bleeding. Pregnant women living with HIV have more than 10-fold higher risk of developing active TB than HIV-negative pregnant women. Ignoring TB in women has ghastly results."

Thomas insisted that, as a matter of policy, government programmes should screen all pregnant women for TB symptoms (like night sweats, fever, cough, weight loss). All NGOs working on maternal and child health should integrate TB in their programmes. Likewise they must screen PLHIV for TB symptoms and accordingly refer them for diagnosis. If they have TB, they should be put on TB treatment, and if they test negative for TB, they should be put on TB prevention treatment.

He informed: "The ENGAGE-TB operational guidance from the WHO Global TB Programme, provides guidance to (i) NGOs on how they can integrate TB in their programmes and (ii) National TB programmes (NTPs) on how they can collaborate and work together with NGOs and other CSOs working on community-based TB activities. This collaborative approach is built in an enabling environment based on mutual understanding and respect between NGOs and Governments. Through supportive policies and simple procedures, it aims that NGOs/ CSOs provide a broad range of TB services."

A few examples of successful application of this model were shared at the recently held 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona:-

Kenya

Despite a gradual decline of approximately 2% annually, TB has remained a major public health challenge in Kenya. About 21% of all estimated new TB cases are still unreached and hence undiagnosed. Kenya also has a high dual TB-HIV burden. The ENGAGE-TB approach was launched in Kenya in 2012. The initiative aimed to enhance collaboration between CSOs and the government for purpose of better TB control and services at the community level. Before this, due to lack of a clear mechanism of their engagement, most NGOs/CSOs remained unengaged in TB control activities. The national NGO Coordination Body was formed in May 2012 and a steering was team was established representing both urban and rural CSOs.

Role of CSOs in community-based TB includes early case finding and facilitating referrals for diagnosis and treatment of TB; prevention of treatment interruptions & retrieval of those who interrupt; socioeconomic support and home based care activities related to TB care; advocacy on reduction of stigma; and social mobilization.

Key achievements of this initiative (2012-2014) were:
(i) Development of operational guidelines for CSO Engagement in TB Control
(ii) Launch and dissemination of Operational guidelines for CSO engagement in TB control
(iii) Identification of CSOs that would engage on Community TB/HIV Control
(iv) Development of CSO code of conduct

Myanmar

Population Services International (PSI) has integrated TB in most of their HIV programmes in high burden TB countries using private-public model in TB care by partnering with NTPs. In Myanmar and Kenya, PSI has also integrated TB services with family planning and maternal and child health services to reach out to women who may not be seeking care for TB symptoms.

Sun Quality Health (SQH), a social franchise network of PSI, working in urban areas of Myanmar, has included TB screening, diagnosis and treatment in its activities. Sun Primary Health (SPH), works in rural areas of Myanmar through a network of community workers that provide TB services, along with other healthcare services for malaria, pediatric pneumonia, diarrhoea and family planning. The main functions of SPH community health workers are community sensitization and case finding; referral- mainly to SQH clinics and other public health sectors; DOTS support; contact tracing and sputum collection; and follow-up on treatment-interrupted cases.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia, a high TB/HIV burden country has also shown positive results for reaching the unreached through new CSO initiatives integrating community-based TB activities. For creating common consensus a high level discussion was held between WHO, Ministry of Health (MoH), NGOs and CSOs and integration of TB services was done in three existing projects—(i)HIV and maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH) – Save the Children; (ii) MNCH and water and sanitation- AMREF; (iii) Cancer screening/HIV- CUAMM.

WHO coordinated and facilitated initiation of projects through capacity building of the NGOs; supporting the establishment of National Coordinating Body; monitoring quality of project implementation; and facilitation of experience sharing among the implementing partners and with NTP.

The ENGAGE-TB approach is now included in the revised National community TB care guidelines of Ethiopia. Engagement of NGO/CSOs has been included in the newly revised Strategic Plan for TB. The two core WHO-recommended indicators have been included in the newly revised Health Management Information System.

Lessons learnt

All these examples show that ‘partnership between Government and NGOs in TB control interventions’ is practical and a critical factor for positive outcomes. However NGOs might need financial support to help integrate TB services into their work, and so increase in resource allocation for community based TB interventions is important.

Commitment from the MoH and local healthcare personnel is essential too. There is need to train CHWs in various health areas, refresh their trainings, develop new tools, and streamline the system so as to reach the grass roots community level. There must also be enough motivation (monetary and otherwise) for CHWs to remain in the programme and not opt out.

Good data collection is critical to demonstrate that community-based TB integration activities have a greater impact than using health centres as point of entry to care and information; and also that multiple services when integrated work better than those working in silos.

Thus, by leveraging existing networks and services, we can reach out to the so-called hidden population at the community level to facilitate early case detection and enhance TB prevention efforts. The strength of NGOs is their reach, spread and ability to engage communities. When NTPs engage NGOs to integrate community-based TB activities into their work, TB outcomes improve, wherein lies the success of the ENGAGE-TB programme.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)

(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is supported by the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme to report from the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona, Spain. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)

Myanmar: Conflict and candlelight: Myanmar's energy conundrum

23 November 2014 - 10:50pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

SAW LA YAR KOO, Birmanie | AFP | Monday 11/24/2014 - 10:49 GMT

by Nan Tin HTWE

When a village in the conflict-torn hills of eastern Myanmar was asked to pay authorities more than $10,000 to plug into an electricity grid, families put themselves in debt to find the cash.

Ten months later children there are still squinting over their homework by candlelight and dinners are cooked on open fires as the work to connect their homes to power lies unfinished, beset by delays and bureaucracy.

Roughly 70 percent of Myanmar's population still does not have access to power, so the once pariah state, which already relies on hydropower to generate half of its electricity, is again turning to its rivers in new plans to harness energy from dams.

But as it rushes to plug the power gap, activists warn of worsening tensions in ethnic minority border areas, where such projects have long brought bloodshed and upheaval -- but little energy.

Back in Saw La Yar Koo village, eastern Kayah state, residents are losing patience. Sitting under the soot-blacked ceiling of her living room in the faltering glow of the cooking fire, 24-year-old Pi Rar feels cheated.

"If we had electricity, we could cook with it, could use computers and the children could study at night. I attended a computer course but I couldn't practise at home without power," she said.

On the dusty track outside her house, where farmers drive bullock carts past simple wooden stilt homes, a gleaming transformer sits idly after villagers say cash-strapped authorities asked each family to stump up another $350 to install electricity.

"I had to borrow half of the 80,000 kyats (the initial payment of $80) from a moneylender... They (local authorities) say we have to pay more to connect the cables to the houses," Pi Rar told AFP.

The costs are likely to push this corn farming village into further debt just as it hopes to reap the rewards of a tentative peace deal in the state after years of bloody civil war.

  • 'Conflict multipliers' -

Myanmar has promised access to electricity for 50 percent of its population by 2020 and for all by 2030, as it clambers to reduce poverty and remain viable for the businesses piling into the former junta-ruled land.

Hydropower looks set to dominate. A string of major dams is planned along the Salween River, which courses from China down through the mountainous territories of eastern Myanmar's many ethnic minorities.

But reliance on dams is deeply controversial as many projects stand in areas wracked by ethnic conflict where troops and landmines have often been deployed to guard large infrastructure projects against rebel attack.

Kayah activists fear Lawpita, Myanmar's first hydropower project, could be the bloody blue-print for the country's future dams.

Thousands were displaced by the project, which now provides around a quarter of the country's hydropower capacity, and activists say a spike in soldiers stirred conflict and incidents of forced labour, land confiscation and sexual violence.

Dams are "conflict multipliers, which are not very helpful" as the country struggles to negotiate an end to more than half a century of civil wars in its ethnic borderlands, said Elliot Brennan, research fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy.

He said planned projects, including one in Kayah and a massive dam upstream in southern Shan state by the Chinese Three Gorges company, largely feed the demand for energy in China's Yunnan province.

What electricity does stay in Myanmar has long been unevenly distributed.

Energy is routinely siphoned from resource rich minority areas to power the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw in the heartland of Myanmar's Bamar majority.

This has caused deep resentment.

"What we have in our state -- we should have a share. But electricity from Kayah goes to other places. Most government projects are like that," said Burma Rivers Network researcher Mi Reh.

  • Rising energy demand -

In a surprise snub to long-term ally Beijing, President Thein Sein suspended the Chinese-backed $3.6 billion Myitsone dam in northern Kachin state in 2011 after strong environmental concerns from the public, as clashes also broke out with local rebels over the project, ending a 17-year ceasefire.

Yet Beijing and Myanmar recently agreed to establish an electricity cooperation committee to keep future projects on track, as part of deals from China worth around $7.8 billion.

For now even Myanmar's main cities are beset by power cuts, prompting several waves of candle-lit street protests since the end of military rule in 2011.

In Kayah much of the energy comes from Lawpita, but local electricity authorities admit that while the state provides more than 200 megawatts to the national grid, it gets just 15MW.

Unsurprisingly, torches and solar panels are still hot sellers at Demoso market, where people from the hilly region near Pi Rar's village flock to shop.

Teens in punk rock t-shirts swagger past the statuesque women of the Padaung tribe, their necks ringed with tall brass coils, as Nay Soe sells his solar panels for up to 100,000 kyat ($100).

He has noticed a slight slowdown in sales as reforms in recent years brought an uptick in energy access, but does not believe new state schemes will put him out of business any time soon.

"It won't be within the next 20 years," he said.

nan/klm/pj/

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: BGP commits robbery against Rohingya villager at Maungdaw

23 November 2014 - 8:44pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Myanmar

Maungdaw, Arakan State: Burma Border Guard Police (BGP) committed robbery against to a Rohingya villager in Maungdaw Township on November 18, said Kader from the locality.

“The victim is identified as Sultan (45), son of Ali Hussain, hailed from Gudusara village of Maungdaw south.”

On November 18, at about 12:00 mid-night, a group of BGP led by Major Yein Chan Aung went to the said village and robbed the Ali Hussain’s house , taking away 2.2 million Kyat and five Ticals of gold ornaments and left the village at about 2:00 pm, Kader more added.

Major Nyein Chang Aung is the Commander of the camp, which is established nearby Kila Dong ( Du Chee Yar Tan) village.

On their way home, they also entered the Bagonenah village and arrested one villager named Khasim (55), son of Atoo without giving any reason. When the arrestee was brought to their camp, the villagers chased them, so the BGP personnel fired seven rounds of bullet to halt the villagers, a trader from Baggona village said.

Besides, on November 17, they also went to Kila Dong (Du Chee Yar Tan) village at night and surrounded the mosque and arrested 12 villagers without giving any reason. However, later, all the arrestees were released except one villager of Udaung who went to that village to see his relatives, a village leader said from the locality who denied to be named.

According to villagers, Major Nyein Chang Aung is very notorious police officer, who always wants to disturb the Rohingya villagers without finding any fault

A village elder, on condition of anonymity, said, “It is a deliberate action against the Rohingya people. An officer will get rewards from the higher authority, who is the best perpetrator of against Rohingya community.”

“How and when we will stand with our own feet”, said a local businessman.

Another ex-schoolteacher preferring not to be named said, “Even the government security forces rob the villagers acquiescently, how the villagers will survive in their villages.”

BGP personnel enter the Rohingya villages at night, in the guise of searching criminals they had already listed, said a local youth.

Myanmar: Burma plants mines in Burma-Bangladesh border

23 November 2014 - 8:42pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Naikhong Chari, Bangladesh: Burmese Army and Border Guard Police (BGP) are outwardly violating the border agreement by installing ‘Booby Traps’ devices, plastic mines and IED devices within 30 meters of zero line, according to a recent intelligence report of BGB.

“The intelligence wing of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) submitted the report to home ministry in October.”

The report mentioned that Burmese army and BGP are setting up plastic mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) within 30 meters of Ashartali and Lembuchhari BGB outposts, clearly violating the 1980 Bangladesh-Burma Border Agreement.

According to the agreement, anyone of the two countries can make any establishments within 30 meters of the no-man’s-land. But, Burma violated the deal several times, BGB source said.

According to the report, BGB recovered 68 plastic mines and seven IEDs from seven meters interior of the zero line of border pillar No. 46 of Ashartali outpost at Naikhangchhari from December 19 to 28, 2013.

Moreover, a Bangladeshi woodcutter recovered two IEDs from near pillar No.49 of Lemu Chari on June 1, 2013. The devices were recovered from 20 meters inside Burma.

Earlier on April 17, 2013, another Bangladeshi citizen also recovered one IED from the same area, the report said.

The report quoted locals and public representatives of border areas as saying that Burma set up the devices in a bid to save their barbed wire fence as some locals of both the countries sometimes cut the fence to move in.

‘Booby Traps’ were set up to resist movement of the activists of so-called Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) as Burma believes wild activists use remote frontier areas of Bangladesh, it noted.

A booby trap is a device or set-up that is intended to kill, harm or surprise a person, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim.

‘Booby Traps’ devices named by Burmese army and BGP were set up in a very aggressive manner by violating the border deal, according to BGB officials.

The report recommended that BGB protest the incident of setting Booby Traps and other devices installed by Burma at a flag meeting, according to BGB.

Besides, it also recommended strengthening the regular patrol by BGB in zero line of bordering area.

Myanmar: Mass Event and Disaster Preparedness: A collaboration between Myanmar and Israel on Disaster Management

22 November 2014 - 8:43am
Source: UN Development Programme Country: Israel, Myanmar

The training workshop on Mass Event and Disaster Preparedness was jointly organized by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Centre for International Cooperation (MASHAV), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel through the Embassy of Israel in Myanmar.

It marked the first step towards collaboration between the Government of Myanmar and the Government of Israel on Disaster Management. Since 1958, the Center for International Cooperation of the Foreign Ministry of Israel (MASHAV) has trained almost 200,000 course participants from approximately 140 countries, in Israel and abroad. Myanmar government officials from different departments have participated in capacity building programmes in Israel.

Representatives of the General Administration Department, Fire Services Department, Myanmar Police Force, Relief and Resettlement Department and Department of Health including key non-governmental agency, Myanmar Red Cross Society participated in the training workshop in Nay Pyi Taw.

They gained knowledge on the practices of emergency management, site and event management of Israel through lectures, drills and simulations on disaster and mass causality accident management, as well as site management and preparedness.

The Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr. Daw Myat Myat Ohn Khin, Chair of the National Disaster Preparedness Working Committee officially opened the workshop on 18 November 2014 in Nay Pyi Taw.

“By joining hands together and building disaster management capacity, we can build disaster resilience Myanmar,” said H.E Dr. Daw Myat Myat Ohn Khin. She encouraged the participants to learn best practices of Israeli as well as to share Myanmar experiences.

“To save lives is our main agenda of the Government of Israel and through this first joint effort will strengthen more collaboration between Israel and Myanmar on Disaster Management,” said H.E Mr. Daniel Zonshine, Ambassador of Israel in Myanmar.

Speaking at the opening of the training workshop, the UNDP Country Director, Toily Kurbanov congratulated the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement for its long-experience of providing Disaster Management Courses in states and regions since 1977, as well as establishing the Disaster Management Training Centre in Hinthada.

“UNDP is the key partner agency of Ministry in building institutional and technical capacity on disaster management. With UNDP’s experience working over 180 countries, we also see our role as a knowledge broker, builder of capacities and facilitator of exchanges and working with stakeholders including Governments and non-state entities. We believe that learning from each other among the different countries is useful in catching up the knowledge, methodology, expertise and resources that are already available,” said Mr. Kurbanov.

UNDP is committed to support national efforts towards disaster risk reduction through its three-year country programme for Myanmar (2013-2015). To this end, UNDP is supporting mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into the government’s policies, strategies and plans through policy advice, capacity development of government officials, pilot interventions at community level and global and regional knowledge sharing.

Myanmar: UN presses Myanmar over Rohingya rights

21 November 2014 - 9:32pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

United Nations, United States | AFP | Friday 11/21/2014 - 23:50 GMT

The United Nations adopted a resolution Friday urging Myanmar to grant citizenship to its Rohingya Muslim minority, ramping up pressure on Yangon to scrap a controversial identity plan.

The measure was adopted by consensus in the General Assembly's rights committee following some wrangling with countries from the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which had sought stronger language.

The resolution expresses "serious concern" over the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, where 140,000 people live in squalid camps after violence erupted between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

Under a controversial government-backed plan, the Rohingya would be forced to identify themselves as Bengali -- a term seen as disparaging -- in order to apply for citizenship. Those who refuse would be forced to live in camps.

Many in Myanmar's government and local Buddhists view Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, but the community maintains its has ancestral roots in the country.

The resolution urges the government to protect the rights of all inhabitants of Rakhine state and allow "equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority," to "allow self-identification" and ensure equal access to services.

Myanmar's representative voiced opposition to the use of term "Rohingya" in the resolution and warned this would stoke tensions in Rakhine state.

"Use of the word by the United Nations will draw strong resentment from the people of Myanmar, making the government's effort more difficult in addressing this issue," said the delegate.

The representative emphasized that the government was seeking to address the issue.

The measure drafted by the European Union now moves to the full Assembly, where it is likely to be adopted again by consensus. A vote is held if the country targeted by the resolution requests it.

Despite criticism of the Rohingya's treatment, the resolution welcomes "continued positive developments in Myanmar" toward reform and notes that the government is making efforts to address the "complex situation in Rakhine state."

It calls for an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to open "without delay" in Myanmar.

cml/oh

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Australia: Shutting the door in the face of a global humanitarian crisis

21 November 2014 - 12:12pm
Source: Jesuit Refugee Service Country: Afghanistan, Australia, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar, occupied Palestinian territory, Sri Lanka, Syrian Arab Republic

Rome, Yogyakarta, 21 November 2014 – The Jesuit Refugee Service observes with deep sadness yet another sudden retroactive change in the policy of Australia towards people seeking international protection in Southeast Asia. Yesterday, the government of Australia announced its decision to stop the resettlement of refugees who had registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Indonesia on or after the 1 July 2014. The number of refugees resettled by Australia from Indonesia will also be further reduced in 2015.

This is another blow for those attempting to gain access to protection via 'regular' channels available in Southeast Asia, namely the UNHCR refugee status determination (RSD) process. So far the change in Indonesia will affect more than 1,911 asylum seekers, mainly families from Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Sri Lanka and Syria. More than 4,300 refugees, who if returned home would be likely to experience serious harm, currently reside in Indonesia. A further 6,200 are currently awaiting the outcome of their application to UNHCR.

Due to the lack of any asylum legislation in Indonesia, or support provided to refugees, their fate lies in the hands of other nations willing to receive them on humanitarian grounds. This new policy of the Australian government will not stop people from going to Indonesia to seek UNHCR RSD and awaiting resettlement; it simply shifts the responsibility of resettlement to other countries and increases the burden on Indonesia, a country that only recently requested increased resettlement from Australia.

Danial* a former UN staff member of the Hazara minority from Afghanistan, fleeing threats to his life and seeking asylum in Indonesia, reflects on the recent decision:

"Limiting the number of humanitarian visas for refugees and rejection of those registered after July 2014 is disappointing. A cloud of grave concern has risen among refugees in Indonesia. The Australian government is ignoring the plight of those who have fled their homes fearing violence. This policy is of no help. It brings more uncertainty to the lives of refugees. It will mean that children will be without the opportunity to attend school for years to come."

"I'm here with seven other family members from Afghanistan. I worked for seven years with the UN and international community, including with the international forces. My car was hit with explosive devices left by the Taliban; I received threats from local commanders, government officials and the authorities. The Taliban came looking for my family on numerous occasions. I saw my friends killed; I was in the explosions; I collected bits and pieces of my friends…Regardless of the change in government policy in Australia, I cannot risk my life by going back to Afghanistan."

This sudden change follows an increase in the number of asylum applications in Indonesia over the last two months, with numbers returning to levels experienced in 2012 and 2013. This clearly demonstrates that stopping the boats does not resolve the plight of those in need for protection. The Australian government narrative – stopping the boats leaving Indonesia to save lives – does not add up.

This 'fortress' mentality of shutting the door in the face of increased humanitarian suffering is heartbreaking, cynical and out of touch with reality. Fortress policies put refugees at increased risk as they are forced to find alternative routes in search of safety. Smugglers are the only remaining option.

This new policy will be interpreted as a betrayal of the former Australian rhetoric of fostering regional protection for refugees. JRS hopes that Australia will renew its stand to support initiatives that increase protection for refugees in the region. We further call on Southeast Asian nations to remain committed to the humanitarian principles of non-refoulement and increasing the welcome and protection of people fleeing persecution in their home countries. Countries like Lebanon, offering hospitality to more than one million Syrian refugees, are an example to follow, unlike the policies being discussed and implemented by many Western nations.

Developing countries host 86 percent of the world’s refugees, compared to 70 percent 10 years ago. This is the highest number in more than two decades. Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.6 million), followed by Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Lebanon currently hosts the largest number of refugees in relation to its national population, where one out of four persons is a refugee.

The only way of stopping people fleeing is to ensure their safety at home. Yet many of the root causes and conditions forcing people to leave remain unaddressed. Closing our doors and hearts to problems will neither guarantee human dignity, nor enhance global or regional protection and stability.

  • The name has been changed to protect the source.

For more information please contact:

JRS International

James Stapleton

International Communications Coordinator

james.stapleton@jrs.net

Jesuit Refugee Service Borgo Santo Spirito 4 Rome, Italy

Tel: +39 06 69868 468; +39 346 234 3841

twitter: @stapletonjm; linkedin.com/in/stapletonjm en.jrs.net

facebook.com/JesuitRefugeeService

twitter: @JesuitRefugee;

Myanmar: Child Rights in Burma Spotlighted on World Children’s Day

20 November 2014 - 10:45pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAN YAMIN AUNG

RANGOON — More than 200 civil society organizations sent an open letter to Burma’s President Thein Sein on Thursday, calling on the government to promote child rights and draw up effective laws to protect the country’s youth from abuses.

Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, said the letter was sent to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), with 234 civil society organizations both foreign and local signing on.

“Burma was one of the countries that signed the CRC but the government’s performance on child rights has been weak. So we, civil society, want to remind the government about their promises regarding the convention,” he said.

In the letter, the civil society groups said child labor issues, sexual violence, human trafficking and humanitarian conditions at camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the most acute problems facing children in Burma.

“We have noticed that the sexual violence against children is severely rising,” said the civil society coalition, listing 11 requests in the letter including more government spending on education, health care and social welfare for children; legislative protections for violence against children including child soldiers; and encouraging a more inclusive education for all, including those with disabilities, as part of an overall effort to promote child rights.

“Some disagree about prioritizing child rights, but child rights abuses are problems that we need to solve immediately,” Aung Myo Min said.

Burma signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. While some progress has been made under the reformist government that took power in 2011, child soldiers remain within the ranks of the military and child laborers are still a common sight on the streets of Rangoon and among the country’s largely agrarian populations.

In Rangoon and Mandalay, celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and World Children’s Day were held.

Around 20 civil society organizations in Rangoon held an event to mark World Children’s Day at the National Races Village on Thursday. More than 500 children joined the event, which included discussions by children on child rights issues, as well as youth performances and games.

“We reduced the adults’ participation in today’s event. We mainly targeted children’s participation and arranged things based on the children’s decisions,” said Aung Myo Min.

He said the aim of the celebration was to raise awareness among parents and the broader public about child rights, and to encourage children to express their feelings. Organizers also hoped the event would encourage greater government attention to child rights issues.

In Mandalay, more than 1,000 children celebrated four days earlier on Sunday.

“We targeted street children, orphans, and children from philanthropic and monastic schools and the disabled, because they face discrimination more than other children and we wanted them to be happy at the event,” said Naing Naing from the Mandalay branch of Equality Myanmar.

He added that the government should implement the commitments laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as soon as possible.

Bangladesh: 600 rescued from traffickers in Bay of Bengal

20 November 2014 - 9:43pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

More than 600 trafficking victims from Burma and Bangladesh have been rescued in the Bay of Bengal, a Bangladeshi navy spokesman in Dhaka said on Tuesday.

Many of those on board are thought to be Rohingya Muslims.

Large populations of stateless Rohingyas remain in displacement camps in Burma’s western Arakan State, as well as in neighbouring Bangladesh.

NGO the Arakan Project says traffickers pose a serious risk to the persecuted minority.

Watch the video.

Myanmar: Making Public Finance Work for Children in Myanmar - An overview of public finance trends 2011-12 to 2014-15 [EN/MY]

20 November 2014 - 7:44am
Source: UN Children's Fund Country: Myanmar

Summary

In the Framework for Economic and Social Reform (FESR) , the Government of Myanmar (GOM) outlined the need to increase public expenditure in the social sector and for infrastructure to support economic growth and fight poverty. FESR also stated that government expenditure on health and education will increase, whilst defence expenditure will decline. Therefore, the United Nations Children Fund Myanmar, (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Myanmar Development Resource Institute - Centre for Economic and Social Development (MDRI-CESD) have developed this report examining current social sector expenditure and the fiscal space available to increase this spending.

In order to understand how public finance could be better oriented towards children, the objectives of this paper were:

• To identify and highlight trends in terms of public sector expenditures, their allocation and growth rates, especially those related to the “social sector”;

• To assess the overall impact of State-Owned-Enterprises (SOEs) on the budget;

• To examine the fiscal flow to the states/regions; and

• To analyse trends in revenue and expenditure.

Key Findings from this report include:

• The Government has made commitments to reduce Myanmar’s fiscal deficit, with projections currently suggesting it will decline to 5 per cent of GDP by 2014-15, from 9 per cent in 2012-13. However, it is still uncertain to what extent the supplementary budget might impact the final figure.

• SOE’s make significant contributions to government revenue and expenditure. Although their net contribution to the fiscal balance varies between SOEs, many are increasingly being exposed to market forces, which is expected to improve their overall impact on the fiscal balance and potentially increase fiscal space for children

• Social sector spending (health, education and social welfare) has increased since 2011-12, averaging between 5-9 per cent of total expenditure, compared to defence which still absorbed 13-15 per cent of total expenditure over the same period. Despite this, the proportion of expenditure allocated to defence has declined since 2011-12.

• Budget allocations for education rose from just under 4 per cent of the budget in 2011-12 and is projected to reach nearly 6 per cent in 2014-15.

• Expenditure on health tripled, from 1 per cent in 2011-12 to 3 per cent of the budget in 2012-13.

• Allocations for social welfare have declined from under 0.2 per cent of expenditure in 2011-12 to 0.1 per cent in 2014-15. Despite this, social welfare expenditure in absolute terms is at approximately the same level in 2014-15 as it was in 2011-12.

Key recommendations from this paper are that:

• An effective monitoring & evaluation system be developed in order to assist a move towards an outcome based budget management framework.

• A sustained expenditure focus on the social sector is required to improve socio-economic indicators in Myanmar.

• The time is opportune for Myanmar to consider the possibility of using increased revenues to direct resources towards efficient and equitable delivery of goods and services, especially those that are critical for children.

• Allocations and transfers to state and regions should be based on need, be linked to development indicators and/or be formula based.

• Exploration is conducted to ascertain whether efficiency gains could be achieved through the consolidation of some ministries, so as to minimise and avoid process duplication and leverage economies of scale in achieving common development outcomes.

• More analytical information is made publicly available to allow for deeper analysis of Myanmar’s fiscal position, in response to the Union Parliament’s request, and to inform parliamentary debate on sustaining investments in children.

• Myanmar’s budgetary classification is made consistent with the UN classification of the functions of Government Standard (COFOG) and Government Finance Statistics (GFS) standards, in recognition of the crucial role of fiscal policy to economic stability and growth. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has been undergoing a Public Financial Management and Public Expenditure Review, cooperating with the international community in this process. This review process can form the basis of a shift towards adopting an internationally recognized budget classification system. Such a budget classification will support better understanding of what goes to children in the budget.

• The budget should, where possible, reflect local needs and should come from a local or ‘bottomup’ planning process in order to put children at the centre of the budget process

Myanmar: How best to bring services to tense parts of Myanmar?

19 November 2014 - 11:53pm
Source: IRIN Country: Myanmar

YANGON, 20 November 2014 (IRIN) - As Myanmar’s nationwide ceasefire negotiations continue, peace in many formerly war-torn regions has allowed state-run lifesaving services to gradually expand. But their provision is intensely politicized, and carefully crafted access strategies are vital, experts warn.

Protracted violence combined with what The Asia Foundation (TAF), an international development NGO focused on Asia, called the central government’s “extreme deficit in legitimacy” in ethnic regions meant that social services were often designed and implemented directly or indirectly by ethnic groups engaged in hostilities with the Burmese army.

However, service providers have begun to adjust by “converging” programmes, or attempting to align and unify the main elements of government and ethnic health organizations’ systems - service delivery, governance and leadership, workforce, and information systems - in an effort to increase impact while allowing the peace process to continue.

In 2011 President Thein Sein instituted reforms, stoking unprecedented encouragement from international donors; aid money jumped from US$355 million in 2010 to $504 million in 2012. But ceasefire negotiations with some opposition groups continue, and even peaceful ethnic regions remain mired in deep, complex poverty.

A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report pointed to Myanmar’s “new aid paradigm” of “moving towards the approach seen elsewhere in the world, where donors work with the government and fund projects at local level”.

Nyunt Naing Thein, deputy chief of party for the Project for Local Empowerment, a programme run by the International Rescue Committee in Thailand, told IRIN: “As humanitarians, we are providing crucial services in a politically tense environment, so we have to be very careful with sequencing our own changes so that we don't jump the service provision aspects ahead of the politics.”

Myanmar’s Ministry of Health said that while there is no single national convergence policy “progress has been made… at the local and state levels, for example with training and [the] provision of vaccines and commodities.”

Experts say it is crucial that everyone from donors to practitioners see convergence as a matter of necessity, but carry out the process with patience. As services are scaled up and formalized in impoverished and isolated corners of the country, survival strategies developed during decades of violence and intimidation continue to be important.

Creative strategies

Healthcare workers have been targeted by the government or army in some locations. “Community health organizations have filled the service gap left by the state, but work has often proved dangerous… The direct targeting of healthcare workers has included kidnappings by the Tatmadaw [Myanmar army], while government restrictions on movement prevented patients and healthcare workers accessing clinics. Individuals who contravened restrictions risked being shot on site by Tatmadaw forces,” said Katherine Footer, a research associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in a November 2014 article on violence against healthcare workers in eastern Myanmar.

Footer argued that healthcare workers’ experiences in tense areas led to the development of important survival tactics: “In the presence of chronic insecurity, development of self-protection strategies by [healthcare workers] and the communities they serve has been essential to maintaining a shadow healthcare system in eastern Burma and ameliorating, if not eliminating, restrictions to access.”

Myanmar researcher Ashley South argued in a 2010 Chatham House paper that “such local approaches to protection are particularly important in situations where international humanitarian actors have limited access - and especially in cases where the state is one of the main agents threatening vulnerable populations.”

International agencies supported many such efforts by setting up offices across the border in Thailand which, according to a 2012 article published by the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN), forged relationships between aid agencies and opposition organizations.

“As cross-border aid is often the only way to help highly vulnerable communities, agencies working in zones of ongoing armed conflict have little choice but to accept some form of relationship with insurgent groups,” the HPN paper explained, arguing that international agencies should do more to understand local protection strategies these workers used.

“This will not be a straightforward undertaking in south-east Myanmar, where the humanitarian agenda is highly politicized,” HPN researchers argued, however insisting that “local humanitarian activities can mobilise communities and help to build trust and capacity, and international donors can engage positively with such initiatives.”

Vaccinations, for example

“We have to strike a balance,” says Nyunt Naing Thein, pointing to vaccinations as an example of a crucial service that can be expanded through proper convergence.

“Sending government healthcare workers [to administer vaccines] won't make sense because they won't be accepted there by the communities or the ethnic armed groups that still control some territories,” he explained. “Sending ethnic health workers makes more sense, but they are not certified by the central authority or Ministry of Health,” he said, calling it “a situation where we want to get services like vaccinations expanded to people who need them, and we also want to respect the central government’s requirements to train and certify people who can administer vaccines.”

To solve this problem, the Project for Local Empowerment developed an accreditation partnership between a Burmese university and a Thai university.

“The ethnic health workers were much more comfortable accessing the training [in Thailand],” Nyunt Naing Thein told IRIN. “And the fact that the government agreed to do this, signals some respect for the work these people have been doing as humanitarians for decades, and a willingness to engage in supporting people everywhere in the country.”

Nyunt Naing Thein emphasized that all such processes should be carried out in a way that builds trust among the parties concerned.

Kim Joliffe, a researcher who authored the TAF report, warned: “In areas where trust is slowly being built but ceasefires remain fragile, rapid expansion of government presence can damage confidence and must be done with caution and better consultation.”

Joliffe told IRIN that social services and peace processes are interdependent: “Convergence of state and ethnic armed organization-linked systems should not be viewed as a strategy that can be pushed through, as it is dependent on the peace transition and will take time.”

He explained that convergence efforts could have long-term impacts on how government-run social services are shaped and reformed in conflict-affected areas, adding that: “It is crucial that support is maintained to existing structures on which hundreds of thousands people depend, particularly as ceasefires could break.”

Myanmar was ruled from 1962 to 2011 by a repressive military government that crushed dissent and fought protracted armed conflicts in the country’s border regions where ethnic minorities live. Social services in remote and contested areas were provided by everything from local NGOs linked to ethnic opposition groups to cross-border mobile teams - some of whom were known as “Back Pack Medics.

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Myanmar: Multi-Sectorial Needs Assessment Southern Kachin and northern Shan States

18 November 2014 - 11:18pm
Source: INTERSOS Country: Myanmar

Executive Summary

The objective of this report is to deepen the understanding of the needs of the population living in IDP camps, host communities and villages with particular attention to Gender Based Violence (GBV), child protection, livelihoods and WASH. The report is the result of a multi-sectorial needs assessment carried out in October 2014 in the townships of Kutkai and Tarmoengye in northern Shan State and Mansi and Nam Kham in southern Kachin State by INTERSOS.

The assessment was conducted over a period of three weeks by a team of eight people (four men and four women) under the supervision of INTERSOS National Project Coordinator. The report is intended to be shared with protection and humanitarian actors in order to have a better understanding of gaps and needs.