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Philippines: ASEAN Monthly Disaster Outlook Vol. 10 October 2014

23 October 2014 - 4:29am
Source: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Country: Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam preview

General Overview

Natural disaster reports were regularly recorded in the ASEAN Disaster Information Network (ADInet) www.adinet.ahacentre.org

Only significant disasters that satisfy the following criteria will be recorded in ADInet: 1. More than 100 people affected, and
2. Involving more than 1 subdistrict,

In total, 15 disasters were recorded during September 2014, with at least 2.5 million people affected and 203,000 people displaced. This month, the region experienced typhoon and storm that caused a lot of damages and widespread impact in Philippines, Myanmar, Lao PDR and Viet Nam. Meanwhile on the the other hand, flooding still happened in Indonesia and Thailand in spite of drier than usual condition in Central and Eastern parts of Indonesia due to effect of El nino. This dry condition is forecasted to continue until at least November 2014.

Number of disasters recorded in September 2013 are higher than September 2014. Last year, the region suffered from flood, particularly in Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. At least, 9 million people were exposed to natural disasters in that month.

Facts

Flood occurred more frequently in this month, with 56% occurence. But the strongest impact is generated by the two weather systems that developed in the pacific ocean. i.e. Typhoon Kalmaegi and Storm Fung Wong. Over 2.3 milllion people were exposed to this disasters. Furthermore, Kalmaegi shows that a single occurence of natural hazard can create widespread impact to the region.

Myanmar: Burma General Elections Scheduled in Late 2015: Election Official

22 October 2014 - 11:52pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

RANGOON — Burma’s first democratic elections in 25 years are scheduled to be held in the last week of October or in the first week of November, the Union Election Commission has announced.

Commission Chairman Tin Aye told the media about the dates for the general election at a press conference on Monday.

In recent weeks, there had been some concern about a delay of the general elections, after President Thein Sein appeared to suggest that elections and a democratic transition could only be implemented successfully if the government reaches a nationwide ceasefire accord with ethnic rebel groups, something that has proved elusive so far.

Tin Aye told journalists that the commission has no intention of postponing the elections, as the Constitution requires a new government to start five years after the current government took office in January 2011.

“To do so, we have to hold a general election. According to the Constitution, we have to start Parliament within 90 days after the elections. To make this happen, we have to hold the elections either in the last week of October or in early November,” he said. “So we can’t postpone it.”

The commission chairman did not provide an exact date for the elections. “After we hold free and fair elections, I will resign,” added Tin Aye, a former top general in the previous military regime and former member of the central committee of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

He made the remarks during a workshop on cooperation and coordination between the commission and civil society organizations during the elections.

His comments on the scheduled election dates were also carried by state media on Tuesday, which reported that Tin Aye had called on the NGOs to be free from political bias when they observe the elections.

The Burma Army gave up direct rule over the country in 2011, installing the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein. Elections were announced for 2015 and are supposed to be a free and fair poll in the presence of local and international election observers.

The last time Burma had democratic elections was in 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory, a result that was ignored by the army, which continued to hold on to power for decades.

Myanmar: Karen Leaders Prepare for Divisive Assembly

22 October 2014 - 11:44pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Wednesday, October 22, 2014 |

Top-ranking Karen rebels are gearing up for an assembly in southeastern Burma this week, where a fractured leadership will discuss their future role in the nation’s main ethnic coalition and the possibility of uniting Karen rebels under a single military alliance.

The Karen National Union (KNU) will hold its central standing committee meeting from Oct. 23-25 in the group’s headquarters at Lay Wah, also known as Law Khee Lar, in Karen State.

Mahn Mahn, joint secretary of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy that committee members will prioritize three main issues: the KNU’s position on rejoining the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC); reviewing the peace process; and how to create a successful Kawthoolei Armed Forces (KAF).

“The first thing we will discuss is our suspension from the UNFC, and whether we will rejoin. Another thing is to review the whole process of the nationwide ceasefire. The last thing is to discuss the emerging KAF. We will discuss how to create this [unified armed force] more systematically,” said Mahn Mahn.

The UNFC is the nation’s newest iteration of an alliance of ethnic armed groups, while the KAF is a newly proposed umbrella group of ethnic Karen armies.

On Sept. 30, several leaders of the KNU—led by the group’s Chairman, Mutu Say Poe—walked out of a UNFC congress in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, stating that the sudden departure was caused by dissatisfaction with UNFC policy and structure, which they viewed as dominated by certain groups.

Not everyone within the KNU supported leaving the alliance, however, including Mahn Mahn and former UNFC Deputy Chairman David Tharckabaw. The KNU soon announced that its leaders needed to discuss whether or not they should remain as active members, and temporarily suspended participation.

The incident revealed growing disagreements among KNU leadership about the nation’s peace process. Mutu Say Poe and his supporters want to move quickly, working closely with the government to reach a nationwide peace pact. An alternate faction led by KNU Vice-Chairman Zipporah Sein wants to proceed cautiously as they remain skeptical of the Burmese government.

An added point of contention among Karen leadership is whether or not to support creation of the KAF, a unified ethnic Karen army that would combine four disparate forces. Those forces would include the KNU’s military wing, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA); KNU defense force Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO); and two KNLA offshoots, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council.

The KAF was proposed on Oct. 13 by the commanders of several rebel armed groups, but Mutu Say Poe’s pro-government faction of the KNU issued a statement two days later distancing themselves from the proposal. The Oct. 15 statement also said that a military merger was already underway as of the KNU’s 15th congress, at which a “Unity Committee” was formed to implement a unification policy.

Zipporah Sein’s supporters back the creation of the KAF, while Mutu Say Poe’s faction opposes it. Karen civil society groups have been vocal in their support for unified armed forces in the fissured state.

The initial announcement of the formation of the KAF followed soon after several clashes between the Burma Army and both DKBA and KNU/KNLA Peace Council troops. The KNLA was not involved in the conflict. All groups involved have signed ceasefires with the government.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government has secured 15 ceasefires with armed ethnic groups since coming into power in early 2011. The government has held six rounds of peace talks with ethnic negotiators, but the two sides have yet to reach an elusive nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, Asia Report N°261

22 October 2014 - 3:31pm
Source: International Crisis Group Country: Myanmar preview

The highly volatile situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State adds dangerously to the country’s political and religious tensions. Long-term, incremental solutions are critical for the future of Rakhine State and the country as a whole.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Myanmar: The Politics of Rakhine State, looks at how the legacy of colonial history, decades of authoritarian rule and state-society conflict have laid the foundation for today’s complex mix of intercommunal and inter-religious tensions. Rakhine State, whose majority ethnic Rakhine population perceive themselves to be – with some justification – victims of discrimination by the political centre, has experienced a violent surge of Buddhist nationalism against minority Muslim communities, themselves also victims of discrimination. The government has taken steps to respond: by restoring security, starting a pilot citizenship verification process and developing a comprehensive action plan. However, parts of this plan are highly problematic, and risk deepening segregation and fuelling tensions further, particularly in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

Rakhine Buddhists have tended to be cast as violent extremists, which ignores the diversity of opinions that exists and the fact that they themselves are a long-oppressed minority. They are concerned that their culture is under threat and that they could soon become a minority in their state. These fears, whether well-founded or not, need to be acknowledged if solutions are to be developed. The desperate situation of Muslim communities including the Rohingya, who have been progressively marginalised, must also be frankly recognised and resolutely addressed.

The government faces a difficult challenge: the demands and expectations of Rakhine and Rohingya communities will be very difficult to reconcile. Ways must be found to allay Rakhine fears, while ensuring the fundamental rights of Muslim communities are respected. To end the climate of impunity, the government must bring to justice those who organised and participated in violence.

Clarifying the legal status of those without citizenship is important. But many Muslims will likely refuse to identify as “Bengali”, fearing this is a precursor to denial of citizenship. A negotiated solution should be pursued, or the citizenship process may stall. Coercion is likely to spark violence.

The international community – especially UN agencies on the ground – have a critical role in supporting the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable communities, which are likely to persist for years. The government itself must do more in this regard.

Unless Myanmar is successful in creating a new sense of national identity that embraces the country’s cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, peace and stability will remain elusive nationwide.

“Any policy approach to the problem must start from the recognition that there will be no easy fixes and that reconciliation will take a long time” says says Jonathan Prentice, Chief Policy Officer and Acting Asia Program Director. “Halting extremist violence requires starting a credible process now that can demonstrate to the Rakhine and Muslim communities that political avenues exist in which their legitimate aspirations might be realised”.

Myanmar: Conflict Sensitive Journalism: Special Edition Myanmar

22 October 2014 - 1:27pm
Source: International Media Support Country: Myanmar

Myanmar has a short history of a free media. Until august 2012 all publications were censored and journalists had to work within boundaries that were defined by the government. Therefore, it is not surprising that many journalists in Myanmar do not have experience working in a free media environment. The absence of a free media also means there are few journalists with the necessary skills and knowledge of journalism to make an independent media flourish.

International Media Support (IMS) has been working to facilitate improvements in Myanmar’s media environment for many years. In January 2012, it began implementing a comprehensive media development programme, entailing a wide range of activities including working to support policy reforms, capacity building of media and journalists.

As a part of this initiative, between November 2012 and June 2013, IMS in collaboration with the Myanmar Peace Centre, implemented 20 conflict sensitive journalism (CSJ) training workshops in Yangon and in media hubs in different parts of the country. The training introduced the concepts of conflict sensitive journalism to over 400 participants at three-day workshops. Mizzima provided the logistical support, while IMS provided the requisite trainers and resources.

This handbook is designed to serve as a practical, everyday guide for Myanmar journalists covering conflict. It is an adaptation of similar country-specific handbooks published by IMS for different countries. The content is based on Conflict Sensitive Journalism, a handbook by Ross Howard, published by IMS in 2003. This Myanmar handbook follows the original structure of the 2003 handbook, using local examples where appropriate.

IMS is pleased to present this handbook in the hope that it may serve as a useful tool for journalists in their practice of conflict sensitive journalism in Myanmar.

Other languages: Conflict Sensitive Journalism: Special edition Myanmar (2014) Myanmar language edition (PDF)

World: Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) DIPECHO South East Asia 2014-2015 (ECHO/DIP/BUD/2014/91000) Last update: 07/10/2014 Version 2

22 October 2014 - 12:27pm
Source: European Commission Humanitarian Aid department Country: Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Philippines, Viet Nam, World preview

AMOUNT: EUR 11 300 000

0. MAJOR CHANGES SINCE PREVIOUS VERSION OF THE HIP

Myanmar/Burma is one of the most vulnerable countries in South East Asia and presents the highest InfoRM ranking in the region1. InfoRM2 identifies countries at high risk of humanitarian crisis and more likely to require international assistance. Myanmar/Burma ranks number 10 worldwide in this index, with a 9.1 rating for natural hazards. Although the country has made significant efforts over the last years to adopt a Disaster Management Law and a Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan, it is necessary to further reinforce disaster preparedness initiatives in coastal areas at high risk of cyclones. Since Cyclone Nargis made landfall in 2008, many initiatives have focused on the Irrawaddy Delta, while less has been done in Rakhine State, where Cyclone Giri affected thousands of people in 2010.

It is therefore proposed to increase the allocation under the current HIP by EUR 300 000 to reinforce disaster preparedness at community and township level in Rakhine State. The implementation of this additional funding will be made by modifying ongoing actions.

Myanmar: Developments after the 2013 UNGA Resolution

22 October 2014 - 2:08am
Source: Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de I'Homme Country: Myanmar preview

The Burmese authorities have failed to implement most of the recommendations from previous United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, in particular Resolution 68/242, adopted in 2013. In some areas, the situation has deteriorated as a result of deliberate actions by the authorities. This briefer summarizes developments on the ground with direct reference to key paragraphs of the resolution.

The authorities have either failed or refused to protect vulnerable populations from serious human rights violations, or pursued essential legislative and institutional reforms, effectively blocking Burma’s progress towards genuine democracy and national reconciliation. This has been partly due to an assumption that the UNGA resolution will either be canceled or severely watered down as a trade-off for smaller concessions.

So far, 2014 has been marred by an overall climate of impunity that has seen a resurgence of media repression, the ongoing sentencing of human rights defenders, an increase in the number of land ownership disputes, and ongoing attacks on civilians by the Tatmadaw in Kachin and Shan States amid nationwide ceasefire negotiations. The human rights and humanitarian situation in Arakan [Rakhine] State has deteriorated to the extent that agencies are privately describing the situation as “pre-genocidal.”

Myanmar: Birth registration project launched in Magwe, Mon, Chin

22 October 2014 - 12:25am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By PAING SOE

A pilot project to register the births of all children in Magwe Division, Mon and Chin states was launched on Monday by various Burmese government ministries, in cooperation with UNICEF and with financial assistance from the EU.

The pilot scheme will target non-registered children in the principal towns in those regions, namely Magwe, Moulmein and Hakha, and is the initial part of a long-term national objective of registering every child’s birth in Burma.

“The programme aims at promoting the concept of birth registration, and in the long run will bring about a perfect public registration system,” said Win Myint, the deputy immigration and population minister.

The birth registration project will involve the following ministries: Immigration and Population; Health; National Planning and Economic Development; and Home Affairs.

According to a UNICEF report, there are around 1.6 million children with no birth registration in Burma. While almost all children born in Rangoon Division are certified from birth, some 76 percent in Chin state, 11 percent in Mon, and 43 percent in Magwe Division have never been issued birth certificates.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 15 - 21 October

21 October 2014 - 8:27am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen, South Sudan preview

DRC: A resurgence of ADF-NALU attacks in North Kivu are thought to have displaced 100,000 people, and killed at least 80. In South Kivu, there has been a significant increase in IDPs, mainly due to insecurity in Shabunda and Fizi territories. 7.3 million people across the country are estimated to be food insecure.

Mali: Clashes in Intillit, Gao region, just before peace talks were scheduled to resume have prompted the withdrawal of some NGOs, with fears that the violence may spread. Mounting insecurity is hampering humanitarian access in the north.

Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone: 9,191 cases of Ebola and 4,546 deaths have been reported, with Guinea’s capital recording a new spike in cases, and every district in Sierra Leone now having recorded cases of the disease. Liberia remains the most affected country.

Updated: 21/10/2014. Next update: 28/10/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Thailand: How Changing Behaviour is Beating Malaria in Thailand

21 October 2014 - 1:13am
Source: International Organization for Migration Country: Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand

By Angela Carreño and Alison Crawshaw

IOM Thailand, with the support of the Global Fund, is implementing a malaria Behaviour Change Communication campaign to reach migrants and their host communities with malaria and personal protection messages. This includes multilingual comic books, posters, flip charts, board games and radio broadcasts which together have reached almost 170,000 beneficiaries over the first two years of the campaign.

IOM teams visit beneficiaries at their homes or workplaces, with an emphasis on areas bordering Myanmar and Cambodia. The teams faced many challenges, including reaching communities in remote and hard-to-reach locations, addressing the many different languages and dialects spoken and the low literacy level of beneficiaries. IOM’s malaria control efforts in Thailand have played an important part in helping the country reach the targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the Global Malaria Action Plan (GMAP).

Protecting migrants from the disease was one of the targets assigned to IOM because the national government was already working with the Thai population. Symptoms do not show during the incubation period of the disease so infected, mobile individuals who cross the borders can spread the disease if they don’t know the proper preventative and treatment measures. It is for this reason that attending to the migrant population is one of the keys to reducing the malaria burden in the region.

How do you teach migrant workers about malaria and achieve changes in their behaviour to protect themselves from the disease? That is the question IOM Thailand faced three years ago when they started implementing the Global Fund malaria project.

IOM Thailand had three main challenges. To begin with, migrant populations and their employers didn’t know who IOM was and they were afraid that Thai authorities could arrest them or return them to their countries if they didn’t have official documentation. Also, IOM needed to know where the target population lived and how many people there were. The second difficulty was language. Most of the migrant workers come from Cambodia and Myanmar and they speak three different languages (Khmer, Burmese and Karen).

The last big challenge was the educational level and cultural beliefs of the target population. For example: “Ethnic groups believe in herbal remedies and spiritual healing. They conduct sacrifices of chickens, because the malaria symptoms are shivering and fever, and they think that a ghost or spirit possesses the person and this is causing the disease,” explained the IOM field coordinator for Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces, Amaralak Khamhong.

The IOM Thailand project manager, Warin Choomsai Na Ayudhaya, and her work team faced this situation when they started the project. Recently, field coordinators from 11 provinces met in Bangkok and discussed the project achievements and explored best practices and useful approaches to help strengthen the programme. After three years of working with the community they have not just saved incalculable numbers of lives, they have also created a model of work with the migrant worker population in Thailand that could serve as an example for future health projects.

Where are the migrants? Where do they come from? Are they seasonal or permanent? To solve these questions, the household mapping of migrant clusters in 20 provinces was implemented in 2012-2013. After identifying the target population, the medical unit started providing blood tests, and directly observing treatment and following up on the infected patients. These activities were part of the case management pillars of the project. To act on prevention, the work team created a behavior change communication campaign.

To solve the problem of the language barrier IOM Thailand hired bilingual staff with work permits that could speak the communities’ languages. Finding personnel who matched these criteria, however, was not so easy, and due to the low literacy levels of the beneficiaries so the team designed visual materials to explain to the migrants the importance of sleeping under the long lasting insecticide nets (LLIN), using repellents and how the disease is spread.

Flip charts with drawings and text in different languages, comic books, posters and bilingual radio broadcast were produced to address the obstacle of the language and literacy barrier. The IOM staff also designed a board game and conducted workshops in factories and plantations to explain to the migrants the benefits of personal protection against mosquito bites and, consequently, malaria, in a straightforward and simple manner.

Regarding cultural behavior and practices, the staff realized it would be impossible, or inappropriate, to attempt to change their beliefs, so they adopted a bilateral advocacy approach to support the use of both modern medicine and spiritual healing. “I think they can see the difference, because sometimes they have to kill a lot of chickens and it still doesn’t help, has no effect and they don’t get better, but at the same time when they take the medicine they get better, so they learn from experiences…and then they talk to each other,” shared Ms. Khamhong in the workshop.

The number of migrant workers infected with malaria in Thailand has decreased over the last few years. Paradoxically, the number of malaria cases in the Thai population has risen over the same period.

“I see the success being that people use bed nets more. Also, when we distributed the repellents, everyone came and asked ‘Can I get some? Because I want to use it when I go to the forest’. They know that when they go to the forest they have to protect themselves from mosquito bites,” said Wero Eckert, Field Coordinator in Tak Province.

Another ‘best practice’ identified was the training of local leaders about malaria prevention. This meant that the message was better understood, and that people changed their risky behaviors. The coordinator concluded in the workshop that working in the field could be successful when all parties are involved and do their job, and cooperation is the key to the success.

The field coordinators also saw the gap in not working on the other side of the border, given the high population mobility between countries in this region. In the case of the Thai-Myanmar border the Ministries of Public Health of both countries are trying to have a meeting and want to train people – the health staff on the Burma side – but they cannot find the funding right now. However, they have already mapped out the plan and who is responsible for health issues on that side.

This Global Fund-supported malaria project is a five-year programme. There are still two more years of work ahead, but the lessons already learnt will help strengthen it, and could also start being applied to other projects involving migrants.

“Now people know who IOM is and they trust us. This is the first time that IOM has applied a behavior change communication strategy in Thailand and the results are visible. Projects like this one could also be applied in Mother and Child Health Care or Disaster Risk Reduction programs for the migrants,” concluded Ms. Choomsai Na Ayudhaya.

See pictures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iomasiapacific/sets/72157647998003002/

World: Asia and the Pacific region celebrates World Food Day with a focus on small holder and family farmers towards the eradication of hunger

21 October 2014 - 12:41am
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization Country: China, India, Myanmar, Thailand, World

Bangkok, Thailand, 15 Oct 2014 -- This year’s World Food Day (16 October) is celebrated across Asia and the Pacific with increasing optimism that the region could achieve the Millennium Development Goal on reducing hunger by 2015.

This was among the key messages delivered on the eve of World Food Day at a regional event in Bangkok to mark WFD 2014, convened by the Asia-Pacific regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth.’

More than 80 percent of the food produced in Asia-Pacific comes from small-holder and family farms. Yet the members of these groups are often, themselves, among the poorest and most disadvantaged.

“Most people do not take time to think about the food they eat and where it came from. I ask, at least for today, that you stop and reflect on the miracles that bring so many different foods to your plates, and give thanks for all the work that is done by family farmers around the world,” said the Guest of Honour, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, during the regional ceremony.

“Inequity is a reality in our world. We live with a lack of fundamental equity – our most basic right – a right to food,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “So many of the people who bring us the food we eat – family and small holder farmers – themselves often face so many hurdles and challenges – even ‘nutritional hunger’ – where they might have enough food to fill their stomachs but lack the vitamins and minerals their bodies need.”

The event focused on the importance of small holder and family farmers and the need to help them tackle the challenges they face in their efforts to produce more food for coming generations in a fair and equitable way that is also profitable for the farmers.

“We all know that we will need a doctor once in a while, a lawyer hopefully never or just once, but a farmer we will need three times a day – no farmer, no food,” said Esther Penunia, Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers Association and Special Ambassador to Asia for the International Year of Family Farming during her keynote speech.

“Thus for food security and nutrition, for eradicating hunger and poverty, for a sustainable, ecological and resilient agriculture, investments for small-scale family farmers in the region through enabling policies and programmes are definitely an imperative,” Penunia added.

In recognition of the importance of small-holder/family farmers, five farmers from across Asia-Pacific received awards at today’s World Food Day event for a series of innovative food production practices. The five – three men and two women – came from China, India, Myanmar, New Zealand and Thailand. The FAO awards were presented to the farmers by the Princess as Guest of Honour. (see citations and biographies for each farmer below)

Gains have been made to fight hunger and increase food production – but much more must be done by all

World Food Day is also a day to remember that the future of agriculture in Asia and the Pacific needs special attention – from land based food production of crops, livestock and other pastoral pursuits to fisheries and aquaculture – in order to nourish those chronically undernourished at present and produce yet more food to feed an ever growing population. At least 60 percent more food is needed by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people in the world – most of them in this region.

While home to most of the world’s hungry (62 percent), the number of hungry people continues to fall in this region. While there are still more than 500 million people chronically undernourished in Asia and the Pacific, the proportion of the population suffering from hunger has declined by nearly half since 1990. In order to meet the Millennium Development Goal on hunger reduction (MDG1) by next year, the remaining gap to be closed is less than one percent (0.7 percent). However, even when that target is met, there will still remain some 12 percent – one in nine people in this region – going to bed hungry each night.

“In many parts of Asia and the Pacific, the progress in fighting hunger has been impressive, but we mustn’t lose sight of the main goal – the total eradication of hunger. Neglecting the needs of the remaining half-billion hungry people in our region is simply not an option,” said Hiroyuki Konuma.

“However, governments are becoming more confident and more proactive in their efforts to eradicate hunger at national level and this can be seen in their moves toward launching of the National Zero Hunger Challenges started by Timor-Leste in January of this year, followed by Myanmar, Nepal, Viet Nam and more,” Konuma said.

Konuma added that in addition to the efforts of small-holder famers, everyone has a role to play in ensuring future food security, pointing out that huge amounts of food are lost or wasted each year – from poor post-harvest, transport and storage techniques – to sheer waste of food by consumers dining at home or in restaurants.

In August 2013, FAO in Asia-Pacific, with the endorsement of governments across the region, launched the Save Food Asia-Pacific Campaign. Since then, many countries have stepped forward with plans and ideas for their own national save food campaigns.

CITATIONS:

CHINA:

Mr Jin Yuepin
a model farmer from the People’s Republic of China
for success as a rice-fish farmer

As a boy from a farming family in China’s Zhe Jiang province, Jin Yuepin would stare at the tall peaks surrounding his village and wonder what lay beyond. As a teenager, he got a chance to find out. An uncle living in France sent for him. Because he lacked higher education, Jin began his working life as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Paris. Eventually, he became a chef, and saved enough to open restaurants of his own.

In 2007, Jin revisited his roots, traveling back to his hometown of Qingtian. With food hard to transport through the mountains, the farmers raised fish in the waters of their terraced rice fields, providing them with two sources of nutrition. “They have been farming that way for over a thousand years,’’ Jin says. But just before Jin arrived, FAO designated the dual method of Zhe Jiang’s farmers a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System, worthy of preservation and promotion. With his entrepreneur’s eye, Jin saw opportunity.

Jin contracted the farmers to supply him with rice and a local strain of koi carp fish they raised. The fish are sought after for their tender meat and tasty skin. However, he soon realized that the farmers’ methods had shortcomings and problems. Too many fish were dying after being spawned.

Jin took courses at the Zhe Jiang Ocean University and began applying what he learned in his community. He built a Rice-Fish Farming Demonstration site, a breeding center for the local koi carp fish, and made a research study of the system at his own expense. He invested over a quarter million dollars in developing and improving rice fish farming in Zhe Jiang.

He also organized a rice-fish farmers’ cooperative, registered trademarks for the products and helped win both the rice and the fish national certification as “green food” in recognition of its natural qualities and environmental value.

Thanks to Jin’s efforts, Qingtian’s farmers are earning more and eating better, while preserving their traditions and their environment. And while he made far more money in restaurants than he has yet to make in rice-fish farming, Jin says profits are not always the most important thing. “We are all much happier now,’’ Jin says. And that is priceless.

INDIA:

Mrs Shailaja Popatlal Navandar
a model farmer from the Republic of India
for success in organic farming

The evolution of Shailaja Popatlal Navander as a farmer in many ways mirrors the evolution of farming in India and the region. “If my family had not changed the way we farm, we would be in deep debt,’’ she says.

But change they did, thanks to the value that Shailaja and her husband Popatlal placed on education. When they married and began farming on seven-and-a-half hectares in Umbri Balapur village in Maharashtra, they followed the trend of that time. In other words, they focused on one cash crop: wheat. And they did well.

But as time went by, monocropping began robbing the soil of essential nutrients. Chemical fertilizers became less and less effective. Yields were declining. Debts were starting to rise.

Other farmers in their village were also suffering. But Shailaja took the initiative. She approached agricultural extension workers in her area and asked for help. They began teaching her how to grow a variety of crops organically and with good environmental practices.

As a girl, Shailaja had wanted to be an engineer, but educational opportunities for women in India were limited at the time. Shailaja’s husband Popatlal, however, supported her efforts to acquire knowledge.

They learned to use natural compost and pesticides, level their land and build irrigation systems. They grow a variety of grains, sugarcane, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Their soil is once again rich and fertile. “Birds and butterflies visit my farm again,’’ she says.

Shailaja is changing farming in her community through its women. She organized thrift groups for women, and teaches them about organic farming methods. She has been appointed to the State Farmers Advisory Committee for Maharashtra.

Her farm has done so well, she and her husband were able to send their four children to university. Her son has chosen to work on the family farm, and her three daughters are now engineers.

“My dream is that women, especially women in farming families, will get the respect and opportunities they deserve,’’ she says. Without a doubt, this woman farmer from Maharashtra is deeply deserving of everyone’s respect.

MYANMAR:

U Myo Thant
a model farmer from the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
for success in hybrid rice production

Opportunities were limited in Myanmar when U Myo Thant was a boy. The only school in his part of Mandalay Division was a Buddhist temple school. But his farmer parents stressed that if he wanted to be successful, he would need an education. That was, perhaps, the most important lesson of all.

At the age of 18, U Myo Thant left home and founded his own farm. He started with just slightly more than one hectare, one cow and one tractor. But he realized he could earn more by milling rice for other farmers and selling it on to markets. With the profits from milling, he bought more farmland, more cows and more equipment.

Myanmar was a relatively isolated country at the time. So when agricultural extension workers visited his village, U Myo Thant didn’t hesitate to seek them out and learn from them. “The other farmers were conservative and afraid to try new ideas,’’ he said. “But I followed every step the extension workers taught me.”

He learned how to level his fields and build better irrigation systems. His productivity began to increase. And when a Chinese agricultural expert visited, U Myo Thant asked him for hybrid rice seeds. Before long, his harvests increased from 80 baskets of rice per hectare to more than 200 baskets. “I thought that was impossible,’’ he says.

He also applied another key lesson from his parents: crop rotation. By growing beans and pulses in addition to rice, he was able to grow rice twice a year, and then three times a year. His neighbors were struggling to produce one harvest at best.

As Myanmar began opening up to the outside world, chemical fertilizers and pesticides became available. U Myo Thant experimented with them, but has abandoned them for the most part. He saw that the fish in his irrigation canals were dying, and so he realized the chemicals could also harm consumers and the environment.

Today, U Myo Thant has two farms of over 100 hectares each. He employs about 50 workers. But he’s most proud of teaching other farmers what he has learned. “I understand them, and I want to see them do better.” His own goal is to start exporting his rice.

He takes seriously President U Thein Sein’s words that agriculture is important for the future of Myanmar. But U Myo Thant says the President is only half right. With populations relentlessly growing everywhere, agriculture isn’t just important for Myanmar. He says “Agriculture is important for the world.’’

NEW ZEALAND:

Ms Ruth Yvette Hone
a model farmer from New Zealand
for success as a dairy farmer

One of the greatest challenges facing farming today is the need to attract young people to become farmers. Unless young people take up farming, farming will have no future.

But for Ruth Hone, a 24-year-old young woman from New Zealand, the future is all about farming. Ruth never wanted to be anything except a dairy farmer. Her love for the rugged outdoor life, her affection for animals and her family’s heritage ensured that. Born in England but raised near the town of Rotorua, Ruth began tending to the nearly 600 cows on her parents’ dairy farm when still a young child. She never had to be coaxed or pushed into working the land.

“To be a good dairy farmer, you have to be passionate about it,’’ Ruth says.

And Ruth has no shortage of passion. She recently became the first woman to win the New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year, and was elected chairperson of the Tihoi Western Bays Young Farmers Club. She has served as an officer in half a dozen other young farmers’ associations.

Because Ruth is not just a young farmer, she is a young leader.

Ruth is the first New Zealander to be named a Model Farmer by FAO. New Zealand is one of the world’s largest dairy producers, its agricultural exports feed an estimated 20 million people worldwide.

As a young leader, Ruth is concerned about the future – not just of dairy farming, but also of the planet. That’s why she stays up-to-date on the latest methods to reduce the pollution and carbon footprint that are natural byproducts of dairy farming.

“We have to find new and better ways to balance our need for food with the need to protect the environment,’’ Ruth says.

That’s an approach she maintains as she diligently saves to buy her own dairy farm in the coming years. With her passion and dedication, she will undoubtedly achieve that goal. Because among the ranks of today’s young farmers, Ruth is the cream of the crop.

THAILAND:

Mr Patphong Mongkolkarnchanakhoon
a model farmer from the Kingdom of Thailand
for success in integrated farming

As a young man in Toong Na village in Western Thailand, Patphong Mongkholkanchanakhun (Mong cone kan chana koon) wanted to be a soldier. He liked the idea of serving his country. But rather than leave his young wife Naiyana, in 1995 they pooled their resources, bought some land and continued their families’ tradition of farming maize and chili.

Public service still appealed to Patphong, and so he got himself elected the head of his township. He soon realized that many of the farmers in his area had problems, the same problems that Patphong was beginning to face on his farm.

Anyone who has driven through Kanchanaburi province could be forgiven for thinking he was in Kansas. Fields of maize stretch out as far as the eye can see. But the conventional emphasis on growing mainly one crop was depleting the soil and yields were falling. To compensate, farmers relied ever more heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. “I saw many farmers become ill from the chemicals, and I developed skin rashes,’’ Patphong said.

But two factors helped turn things around. First, he learned about the Sufficiency Philosophy advocated by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The philosophy advises farmers to work in harmony with the environment by diversifying crops, breeding fish and poultry, and avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Second, as a township official, he was offered training by several government agencies in alternative and better farming methods. Patphong took advantage of every opportunity to study, and then applied what he learned on his farm.

It wasn’t easy. Growing crops organically took longer and yields initially were lower. But he persevered. Today, he is one of the most successful farmers in Kanchanaburi. He grows everything from rice to mango and vegetables, while raising fish, pigs, chickens and ducks. He produces biogas from pig waste to power his home and farm. He is also involved in conservation efforts to protect elephants in his area.

Most importantly, he teaches other farmers what he has learned. And with the knowledge he shares, their outputs have increased and pollution levels have been reduced.

Although he never realized his ambition of becoming a soldier, Patphong has found a way to serve his community, his country and the planet.

Philippines: Regional Snapshot East Asia and the Pacific | Fiscal Year (FY) 2014

20 October 2014 - 7:32pm
Source: US Agency for International Development Country: Indonesia, Myanmar, Palau, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tonga, World preview

REGIONAL SUMMARY

Recurrent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, seasonal floods, and typhoons, as well as limited government response capacity in some countries, present significant challenges to vulnerable populations in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP)2 region. In addition to staff in Washington, D.C., USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) maintains a permanent regional office for EAP in Bangkok, Thailand. As of October 2014, USAID/OFDA also had a regional advisor based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and a disaster assistance coordinator covering the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Myanmar: Dispatches: A Scathing Verdict on Burma’s Stalled Reforms

20 October 2014 - 5:09pm
Source: Human Rights Watch Country: Myanmar

OCTOBER 17, 2014

John Sifton

A remarkable set of meetings took place this week in Rangoon, with more than 650 representatives from Burmese civil society groups gathering to discuss the status of the country’s reform process.

Today the group issued a scathing report on the stalled reform effort. After acknowledging advances in the first period of the transition, in particular the government’s release of most political prisoners and the loosening of censorship and surveillance, the report minced no words. The transition process has excluded opposition actors, ethnic minority groups, and civil society. Burma’s parliament is “no more than window-dressing.” In some cases, the report noted, “situations have regressed.”

The report noted a worsening atmosphere for freedom of expression and lack of meaningful progress on legal reform. “In the first few years, people thought that freedom of expression was growing, but now it is under threat,” said one steering committee member.

Most pressing of all, the group said, is the fact that prospects have dimmed for reforming Burma’s deeply flawed, military-authored 2008 constitution, which subordinates civilian rule to the military and gives military officers 25 percent of parliamentary seats, ensuring the military’s capacity to veto constitutional amendments. “Myanmar cannot be said to have genuine democracy,” the group noted, “until the 2008 Constitution is amended and Parliament is fully elected by the people.”

Meanwhile, the report notes, much of Burma’s citizenry remains in poverty and many are at continuing risk of violence. The liberalization of the economy has mainly benefitted the elite class, it said.

Armed conflict has continued or resumed in several ethnic areas, the group said, and there has been a breakdown in ceasefire talks between the army and ethnic groups. There’s been no progress on a more comprehensive political settlement with ethnic groups. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced in conflict areas, even as the government continues to sell land concessions to companies that undertake extractive mining, logging, or clearing of land for rubber plantations.

“The economy is in the hands of the army and its cronies,” said one of the group’s leaders in Rangoon.

The report is well timed. In four weeks, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other Asian countries will meet in Burma at the annual ASEAN summit and East Asia Summit. The event may be the last and best chance for foreign leaders to press the government and army – still the real power behind the scenes – to deliver on commitments for genuine democratic reform. US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and others should press Burma’s president, Thein Sein, to publicly commit to constitutional reform ahead of the 2015 elections, undertaking legal reforms that uphold the fundamental freedoms of all Burmese, and ensuring protections for vulnerable minorities, particularly ethnic Rohingya and other Muslims.

Today’s unified statement by Burma’s civil society should end the wishful thinking present in capitals around the world about the state of the reform process in Burma. It’s up to Obama and other world leaders to deliver the message to Burma’s government.

Myanmar: Schools, businesses close as tensions rise in Hpakant

20 October 2014 - 5:05pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By NAW NOREEN 18 October 2014

Hpakant Township residents say that tensions between government forces and the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) continue to rise in the area, forcing schools and businesses to close down.

The already tense atmosphere in the jade-rich Kachin State township was exacerbated on October 15 when a local Burmese army battalion prohibited Aung Bar Lay Village residents from moving freely around the area.

As a result, schools in Aung Bar Lay and Kan See Villages have been closed and many businesses in Hpakant have also shut their doors, according to Sheila Seng, an honorary National League for Democracy (NLD) member in Hpakant.

In an interview with DVB, Sheila Seng said: “Schools in Kan See and Aung Bar Lay had to close down temporarily as government troops are poised to launch an offensive at any time. The schools were closed for the safety of the students. The jade businesses [in Hpakant] have also slowed down. People are very concerned about this dangerous situation.”

The honorary NLD member also said that both the Burmese army and the KIA have reinforced their troops in the past few days.

“There are many troops. They have been transported from lower Burma in trucks of all sizes. There was already a military division in the area, and around 1,000 reinforcements have just arrived. We also heard the KIA is reinforcing its troops because without reinforcements they would be trapped,” she said.

The standoff began when companies that didn’t want to pay taxes to the KIA complained to government troops, who then ordered KIA troops to withdraw from the area. Government troops also instructed local villagers to move away from the area, according to local residents.

The KIA’s Vice Chief of Staff, Major General Gon Maw, told DVB that friction between government forces and KIA soldiers started increasing when the government ordered the KIA’s 6th Battalion to leave the area.

Although Maj. Gen. Gon Maw said that mediators are currently negotiating a way to resolve the problem, he indicated that fighting will probably break out again if the negotiations fail.

“Our battalion is negotiating with local government forces, and our liaison office in Myitkyina is negotiating with government commanders. We also sent a letter to U Aung Min, but the government keeps telling us to move the KIA’s 6th battalion away from the area. If they launch an offensive on the 6th Battalion there will be an escalation of conflict in Kachin State,” said the KIA major general.

There hasn’t been any shooting yet, but villagers from Aung Bar Lay are talking with religious and social organizations about the possibility of taking refuge in a safer part of Hpakant Township.

Myanmar: Landmine Blast Injures 3 at Kachin School

20 October 2014 - 4:53pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By ZARNI MANN / THE IRRAWADDY| Monday, October 20, 2014 |

RANGOON — A landmine exploded outside a school in Kachin State on Saturday, injuring three people including two young students. No casualties have been reported.

Police are still investigating the incident, which followed a week of tension between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in several villages near the state’s jade-rich Hpakant.

Saturday’s explosion took place in Kan See village of Lone Khinn Township, just north of Hpakant, where Burma Army soldiers have reportedly frightened villagers with an order to evacuate, claiming that armed conflict was imminent.

Neither the Burma Army nor the KIA has admitted to placing the ordnance in the schoolyard, though many locals believe that Burmese soldiers were responsible.

Eight-year-old Laphai La, Larmai Sengpan,18, and Khamai Zaw Khun, 22, suffered severe leg injuries and are now recovering in a hospital in Hpakant.

“The youngest victim, who is eight, was seriously injured and can’t walk yet. He had a minor operation and is getting better,” a duty officer from the township police station told The Irrawaddy.

Last week, Burmese soldiers reportedly ordered about 1,000 villagers to leave their homes to avoid conflict that could break out between government and rebel troops following disputes about taxation. Rebel soldiers were also ordered to leave the area.

Most villagers did not evacuate and the KIA refused to leave their posts. The Burma Army then issued warnings in several villages that locals are not permitted to travel from one village to another.

Local sources claimed that they had been stopped, searched and harassed by government troops while making trips between their village and the local market.

“They [the Burma Army] tried to stop everyone who carried a bag. They said we were not allowed to leave. We are afraid that we will be hostages, since we can’t go out,” said La Mai, a resident of Kan See.

Restrictions on movement have caused alarm among villagers, who now fear for their food security because they rely on vendors who transport food in bulk from rural marketplaces.

“Vendors are no longer coming to our village,” said Zaw Mai, another civilian who lives in Kan See. “They heard the news and they are afraid that battles will break out. We can’t even go out to Lone Khinn market because we would need bags and baskets to carry back the food.”

Villagers said that the KIA has assured them they will not participate in active conflict, but the presence of fully armed soldiers from both sides has sparked fear nonetheless.

Fighting erupted between government forces and the KIA in mid-2011 with the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides. Intermittent conflict has since displaced upwards of 100,000 civilians, many of whom still live in isolated camps. Peace negotiations have been ongoing since violence subsided in early 2013, though sporadic conflict continues.

A local member of Burma’s leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy last week that conditions were calm in areas near Hpakant, but that the Burma Army had deployed soldiers along a main roadway connecting the town with the state capital Myitkyina. He added that KIA troops remained stationed on the opposite side of the Uru River, where the two sides were within each other’s line of vision.

The central government has come under recent criticism for what has been perceived as a series of offensives against ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Karen, Mon and Shan states. The country’s main ethnic coalition, the United Nationalities Federal Council, warned last Wednesday that attacks against minorities risks undermining Burma’s precarious progress toward reaching a nationwide peace agreement.

Myanmar: Burma Army Agrees to Withdraw From Disputed Shan Territories

20 October 2014 - 4:51pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Monday, October 20, 2014 |

Government troops have agreed to retreat from some areas near the upper Salween River, during an emergency meeting with ethnic Shan rebels on Saturday.

Members of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) met with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee in Lashio, Shan State, to discuss skirmishes between Shan soldiers and the Burma Army in Kyethi Township, near areas under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Sao Khun Hsai, secretary of the SSPP/SSA, said that a resolution was reached and that “both sides agreed not to let this happen in the future.”

Burmese troops, he said, will be withdrawn from the disputed Tah Phar Hsawng territories on the western side of the river, where sporadic conflict has reportedly left seven people dead and caused hundreds of villagers to flee their homes.

Local sources said that although fighting was reignited in the area in early October there has been no sound of gunfire over the past few days.

On Oct. 9, Shan State Minister for Border Affairs and Security Col. Aung Thu sent a letter to the SSPP/SSA leadership ordering the rebel troops to withdraw, claiming that they had entered Union territories. The Shans maintained that the land in question was under their jurisdiction.

Though the letter initially angered many ethnic leaders, Sao Khun Hsai said following the meeting that, “it has been settled and they agreed not to do that again.”

The Burma Army has also agreed to compensate civilians that were affected by fighting in Tah Phar Hsawng, he added.

“I was told that some 2.2 million kyats [US$2,200] will be allocated to compensate war refugees and people whose homes were destroyed,” he said. “The discussion went well and we just have to wait and see if that will be implemented as planned.”

Negotiators also discussed the formation of a coordinating team for state stability and development, as well as the future role of liaison offices, which have been established in rebel territories to facilitate bilateral relations as the peace process barrels onward.

The SSPP/SSA, also known as the Shan State Army-North, is one of Burma’s strongest rebel armies, with an estimated force of about 4,000. The group signed a new state-level ceasefire with the central government on Jan. 28, 2012, and is currently involved in Union-level peace negotiations.

Myanmar: Magwe village inundated by flash flood

20 October 2014 - 1:43am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

More than 100 homes, farms and plantations in Magwe Division’s Kanyin village were inundated by a flood triggered by heavy rains on 17 October.

Local residents in Kanyin said their homes and farm equipment were damaged by an abrupt surge in the water level on Friday evening that also left farms and fields buried in mud.

Residents who were most affected by the flood were evacuated to a temporary shelter at the village monastery where they were provided supplies and donations by fellow villagers – no official relief had arrived as of Sunday.

Kanyin experienced a similar disaster eight years ago during fresh floods when the entire village was inundated. Residents have called on local authorities to install proper irrigation ditches and sluice gates.

Local sources on Monday said water levels were returning to normal.

Myanmar: Myanmar confirms increasing domestic HIV funding by US$ 5 million

18 October 2014 - 4:25pm
Source: UNAIDS Country: Myanmar

Myanmar’s Minister for Health, Than Aung, confirmed during a meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, J.V.R. Prasada Rao, that domestic funding for HIV treatment will be increased by US$ 5 million. Mr Rao completed a five-day visit to Myanmar on 17 October, in which he focused on supporting the country’s efforts to rapidly and effectively scale up its AIDS programme.

There were 190 000 people living with HIV and 6700 new HIV infections in Myanmar in 2013. More than 65 000 people were receiving HIV treatment in 2013 and the Ministry of Health estimates the new funding will enable 40 000 additional people living with HIV to access antiretroviral medicine and will increase the national HIV treatment target coverage to 85%. The Minister of Health has asked his staff to work with UNAIDS to determine the cost of reaching 100% coverage.

Mr Rao welcomed Myanmar’s commitment to the HIV response and said, “The government is showing remarkable leadership in its national AIDS response and I ask the country’s leaders to extend strong support to the goal of ending AIDS by 2030. This goal must be a part of the sustainable development goals on health, which countries will adopt in 2015.”

The Minister of Health also pledged an additional US$ 1 million to further scale up opioid substitution therapy for 10 000 people by the end of 2016. Studies show that harm reduction programmes such as needle–syringe exchange programmes and opioid substitution therapy are effective in reducing the spread of HIV.

In Myanmar, key populations, including people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people, are at higher risk of HIV infection. Mr Rao urged the government to amend policies that violate the human rights of key populations and praised the country’s draft intellectual property law, which will help protect access to affordable medicines.

During his mission Mr Rao met other top officials, including the Attorney General, Tun Shin, the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Kyaw Kyaw Htun, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thant Kyaw. He also met with Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy and Member of Parliament, who expressed her support for efforts to reform laws and policies.

Mr Rao also met civil society representatives from key populations while participating in a panel discussion on the sustainable development goals and HIV.

Myanmar: Malaria’s New Frontline

18 October 2014 - 1:23am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAMANTHA MICHAELS / THE IRRAWADDY

HTEE KAW HTAW, Karen State — Seventeen-year-old Ma Win was exhausted, to put it mildly. During the rainy season this year, the young woman fell sick with chills, body aches, joint pain and dizziness—not once, but twice, within two months. “I couldn’t walk,” she said in July, just days after recovering.

She had malaria again, a common illness in this Karen State village that was isolated for several decades by armed conflict and poverty. In the past she might have been hard-pressed to find medicine without crossing the border to Thailand, but today it’s a different story.

Htee Kaw Htaw, a small community of farmers near the Moei River, may seem an unlikely place for some of the world’s top malaria experts to focus their attention. But the village is now at the epicenter of a massive global push to beat the mosquito-borne disease that already kills 660,000 people every year, and which, if left to follow its current course, could soon do much greater damage.

Race Against Resistance

During the rainy season here, the air is fresh as cows graze in a lush green valley of the Dawna Mountains, while barefooted children walk to school on a dirt path.

Htee Kaw Htaw seems calm these days, perhaps belying tensions still simmering under the surface as it recovers from a civil war that left its people vulnerable to land mines, shelling and forced displacement.

A ceasefire almost three years ago ended clashes between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU), and today most of the village’s 650 people make their living as farmers, growing corn, beans and rubber. But they say this land was once covered with virgin forest—a fertile breeding ground for the mosquitoes that still proliferate in rice fields and streams, making malaria a normal part of life. _DSC1617-2

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As common as it may be, the disease is not always easy to identify in its early stages. Passed from person to person through the bite of infected mosquitoes, it often begins like the flu, with headaches, fatigue, fever and nausea. But as parasites from the mosquito spread to the kidneys, lungs and brain, the symptoms can be horrifying: bone-piercing chills, uncontrollable trembling and severe pain that was described by one victim as akin to stings from an electric shock gun. If left untreated, organs can fail, leading to seizures, coma and death, sometimes less than 24 hours after the onset of symptoms.

For a while, people living in malaria hotspots around the world seemed to have found some relief. A so-called malaria wonder drug was discovered in China, and when it came to the Myanmar-Thailand border in the 1990s the number of cases dropped dramatically. But lately the news has been less rosy—indeed, recent developments in Southeast Asia have left some scientists feeling panicked—and in the turn of events, Htee Kaw Htaw and other Karen villages have landed on the world health radar.

The deadliest type of malaria-causing parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, has been evolving here along the border and elsewhere in the Mekong region, and in doing so it has developed resistance to drugs. Today, the wonder drug, known as artemisinin, is taking longer to clear parasites from the blood of infected people. If it fails to work completely, the results could be catastrophic.

Scientists fear that if malaria is not totally eliminated from the region soon, resistance to artemisinin could make its way west to India and then Africa, where the disease already kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly children. Resistance has spread this way at least three times in the past with other drugs, but this time there is a greater sense of urgency: Currently, no other replacement drugs are available. And while some new options are in the pipeline, it will likely be years before they are on the market and available for widespread use.

“This is an emergency,” says Prof. François Nosten, a French malaria expert who has been studying the disease along the Myanmar-Thailand border for about three decades. “We are in a race against resistance, and we are losing because we are too slow to react.”

Governments and international donors have spent billions of dollars trying to stop drug resistance from spreading, but it’s not working. The wonder drug is taking longer to clear parasites in northern Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and here in eastern Myanmar, while there are indications that resistance is also emerging in central Myanmar, southern Laos and northeastern Cambodia.

“We need to do something different,” Dr. Nosten says.

He and other scientists are turning their attention to Myanmar, which, at a crossroads between India and China, borders about 40 percent of the world’s population.

‘Healthy’ Carriers

More than two-thirds of Myanmar’s population lives in malaria-endemic areas, from the upper reaches of Kachin State to Myeik in the far south. The number of people dying from the disease fell sharply after artemisinin-based combination therapies became more widely available, but the country still has by far the largest malaria burden in the Mekong region, with more than 480,000 cases reported in 2012, leading to about 400 deaths, according to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO).

And the toll goes beyond health: By keeping people away from school and work, malaria hits education and the economy, making it tougher for already impoverished villages to develop. Worldwide, the cost in lost economic growth from the disease is likely higher than US$12 billion every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

In Myanmar, many people lack access to medicine, particularly in rural states along the country’s borders that are still recovering from war. “Government hospitals are far away, and most people are too poor to spend on health care,” says Saw Soe Win Kyaw, director of the Back Pack Health Worker Team, a network of medics who carry supplies on their backs from village to village.

While the government’s health budget remains minimal, one of the leading international funders for malaria control is stepping in to help. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has pledged $100 million to fight drug resistance over the next three years in the Greater Mekong region, and of that money, $40 million is going to Myanmar. Another $3.3 million will be spent along the Myanmar-Thailand border, in part to set up hundreds of malaria clinics throughout Kayin State, where medics can test anyone with a fever and offer medicine to those who are infected.

But even with more manpower, a serious challenge remains. Not everyone with malaria shows symptoms, so many are never tested. In some villages, more than half the population carries parasites in their blood, though they appear healthy. They go about their daily lives without the slightest awareness that something is wrong, but there is a chance they will pass parasites to mosquitoes that bite them, and those mosquitoes can infect other people down the line.

Medicine for the Masses

That’s why the Global Fund has set aside $400,000 of its $3.3 million cross-border interventions for a more controversial strategy: giving medicine to everybody in malaria hotspots, including those who are not sick.

This strategy, known as mass drug administration, is a departure from current efforts to control the disease in Southeast Asia. It has been tried in the past but with mixed results, leading the WHO to stop recommending it decades ago. Debate is ongoing, but some scientists believe it is the only feasible option left to tackle drug resistance.

“Targeted malaria elimination is considered a pilot,” says Izaskun Gaviria, a senior fund portfolio manager at the Global Fund, using another name for mass drug administration along the Myanmar-Thailand border, and adding that other partners were funding similar pilots in Cambodia and Vietnam. “If successful, it might be expanded to all the borders.”

In Myanmar, perhaps before the year’s end, mass drug administration will be proposed in villages where a high number of people are found to be infected with the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. In small villages, everyone might line up at a clinic for treatment, while people in larger villages might receive it from medics traveling from house to house. Whenever possible, the medics will also watch to ensure that the medicine has been taken properly: once per day for three days, and with a meal such as rice, vegetables and curry to reduce possible side effects like stomachaches and dizziness.

The three-day supply will be distributed once every month for three months, but only after the plan is approved by an ethics committee under Myanmar’s Department of Medical Research, and only with consent from the villagers themselves. Before any medicine is given out, medics will hold focus group discussions with community leaders, school teachers and other residents, who can ask questions about mass drug administration and why it has been recommended. If the plan goes forward, everyone will be given a chance to participate except pregnant women and babies, and at any point—even during the second or third months—anyone can decide to opt out.

Dr. Nosten, the French malaria expert, will help implement the project with his Thailand-based malaria research team, the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit. He hopes eight out of every 10 people in selected villages will take the medicine, but it might be tough to reach migrant workers who are on the move. “If you clear the malaria parasite only from half the population, the other half may continue to transmit,” he says.

Not Black and White

Mass drug administration is nothing new. It’s an accepted strategy for fighting other diseases, including river blindness in Africa and filariasis in Asia, but for malaria it’s more controversial.

Since the 1930s, mass drug administration has been tried in malaria hotspots around the world, including in Europe, back when Italy still saw cases of the disease, but the results have not been black and white. That’s partly because there are so many variables. In each attempt, different drugs and regimens have been used, while the mosquitoes carrying the parasites have been different depending on the location, as have the people taking the medicine.

On some islands the strategy has been successful, according to Dr. Nosten, but in other cases it has led to undesired consequences, including a worsening of drug resistance. This happened in the 1950s in Cambodia, when experts from the WHO mixed antimalarial drugs with cooking salt and distributed it to villages. People ate the salt and absorbed the drugs into their blood, but the parasites grew resistant because the doses were low and uncontrolled.

Myanmar also tried mass drug administration in the 1990s. The number of malaria cases dropped initially, but the disease later came back, and with even greater force. That might have been due to the medicine that was used: sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, an antimalarial drug that turned out to encourage, rather than prevent, the passing of parasites from infected people to mosquitoes.

Two years ago, a small study of mass drug administration began in four villages along the Myanmar-Thailand border, with a different combination therapy that contains the wonder drug artemisinin and is recommended by the WHO.

Led by Dr. Nosten, the study is ongoing until mid-2015, but preliminary results are encouraging. “Before, many people were sick. Now it’s very rare to find malaria here,” says Saw Slight Naw Nyo, a medic who works for Dr. Nosten in Htee Kaw Htaw, one of the four villages.

Still, some have continued to fall ill. “I was out in the fields when the medicine was given out,” says Ma Win, the 17-year-old who suffered through two bouts of the disease this rainy season. “But none of my friends have been sick,” she adds.

U Ohn Myint, a Buddhist community leader, says he was glad to participate, even though he did not feel ill. “If there was any malaria in my body, I wanted to make it disappear,” he says.

Buying Time

Under normal circumstances, before launching a larger pilot project with the Global Fund, Dr. Nosten would wrap up this study along the border and publish the results. “But that would be in three years’ time, and in three years it will be too late,” he says. “Next year will be too late—resistance will already have reached a proportion that we cannot control.”

It may seem premature to try mass drug administration elsewhere, but in the race against resistance, he says it’s the only option. The current strategy to control malaria—distributing bed nets, spraying insecticides and treating only those who test positive for the disease—can eventually eliminate malaria, “but it takes many, many years, and we don’t have those many years,” he says.

It would be too expensive and technically impossible to identify “healthy” carriers by testing everyone in villages, he adds, so “the only alternative is to treat everyone.”

“No one knows for sure that it’s going to work, but it depends what we mean by working. If we manage at least to reduce malaria so much that for the next five years there are virtually no more cases—if every time there is a case, we can detect it and treat it—at least we buy time. Maybe we buy five years, maybe 10. Maybe in 10 years we have a vaccine or a new drug.”

Dr. Thaung Hlaing, deputy director of Myanmar’s national malaria control program, says that despite the uncertainties, he supports the Global Fund’s pilot of mass drug administration and is eager to see results after one year. “We are optimistic,” he says.

Meanwhile, the US government—the biggest donor country to the Global Fund—is not yet ready to integrate the strategy into its own international malaria program.

“The jury is still out, from our perspective. The science isn’t there for us to be ready to invest funding and deviate from what we know are proven, effective interventions,” says Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who leads the President’s Malaria Initiative, launched by former US President George W. Bush in 2005, adding that he would consider supporting mass drug administration in the future if it was found to work well.

“The current Global Fund-supported pilot … will provide valuable information that will inform the [Myanmar] Ministry of Health and the global malaria community on whether this strategy is effective,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The WHO, which discouraged mass drug administration for routine malaria control after its failure in Cambodia, is now also considering whether the strategy is necessary.

“We are in a critical period of losing the powerful drug. It is an exceptional situation, and we are looking at old interventions and bringing them back to see if this would help,” says Krongthong Thimasarn, a malaria specialist at the WHO office in Yangon.

But because Myanmar is such a dangerous place for artemisinin resistance, she adds, mass drug administration should be applied with extreme caution. “It is like a surgeon operating at the heart of a patient.”

This story first appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

World: Humanitarian Assistance in Review - East Asia and the Pacific | Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 – 2014

17 October 2014 - 7:17pm
Source: US Agency for International Development Country: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Viet Nam, World preview

Recurrent floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and seasonal typhoons present significant challenges to vulnerable populations in the East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) region. Some countries also face civil unrest and associated humanitarian impacts, as well as limited government capacity to respond to disasters. Between FY 2005 and FY 2014, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP) provided humanitarian assistance in response to a diverse range of natural and complex emergencies in the region, including cyclones or typhoons in Burma and the Philippines; earthquakes in China, Indonesia, and New Zealand; floods in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam; a tsunami in Japan; a drought in the Marshall Islands; volcanic eruptions in Indonesia and the Philippines; and conflict in Burma and Timor Leste.

Between FY 2005 and FY 2014, USAID provided nearly $319 million in disaster response assistance in the EAP region. USAID/OFDA assistance included nearly $190 million for programs in agriculture and food security, economic recovery and market systems (ERMS), health, humanitarian coordination and information management, logistics support and relief commodities, nutrition, protection, risk management policy and practice, shelter and settlements, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). As of September 22, USAID/FFP assistance during this time period included more than $129 million for food assistance in the form of U.S. purchased food, locally and/or regionally purchased food, cash transfers for food, food vouchers, and related activities.