Myanmar - ReliefWeb News

Syndicate content
ReliefWeb - Updates
Updated: 4 min 28 sec ago

Myanmar: Myanmar: Stop using repressive law against peaceful protesters

16 October 2014 - 1:59am
Source: Amnesty Country: Myanmar

The ongoing arrests and charges brought against scores of peaceful protesters in 2014 is a stark reminder that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are still severely restricted in Myanmar. Despite amendments to the 2011 Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (Peaceful Assembly Law) adopted in 2014, the authorities are still using the law as a tool to stifle dissent, however peaceful.

Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to immediately drop all charges brought against those solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained or imprisoned under such charges and to amend the Peaceful Assembly Law to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards.

Peaceful protesters arrested and charged

So far in 2014, Amnesty International has received reports that at least 60 individuals have been charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law. However, the actual number is believed to be higher. These individuals include political activists; land rights and environmental activists; human rights defenders; farmers; and other peaceful protesters. They have been charged solely for their participation in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations.

Htun Htun Oo (m), an environmental activist from the Human Rights Watch and Defence Network (HRWDN), was sentenced on 23 September to a total of six months in prison under three counts under Article 18 for holding public talks about environmental conservation on 10 March, planting mangrove trees on 12 May and for holding a solo protest against corruption in July. Htun Htun Oo claims he had received oral permission to plant trees during a meeting on 9 April with the Regional Governor in Dedaye Township, in Ayeyarwaddy Region. On the same day, villagers, Khin Shwe and Cho Lwin (both m) were also sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for joining Htun Htun Oo on 10 March and 12 May, and Myint Lwin (m) to two months’ for joining them on 12 May. All three are currently detained in Pyapon prison in Ayeyarwaddy Region and face further charges under the Forestry Act and for trespassing and causing damage under Myanmar’s Penal Code.

On 22 September, Bo Bo, Tin Htun Khaing (both m) and Nan Aye Aye Khaing (f), were informed by the police in Pathein Township in Ayeyarwaddy Region that a case has been opened against them under Article 18 for participating in a peaceful demonstration on 21 September to mark International Peace Day. The three, along with around 20 other protesters, were marching, singing peace songs and reciting poems. They were not shown any arrest warrant or criminal complaint letter.

Amended legislation falls short of international human rights law and standards

On 24 June 2014, President Thein Sein signed into law revisions to the Peaceful Assembly Law. The revisions came in response to national and international pressure to bring the law into line with international human rights law and standards, as it had been frequently used to arrest and detain peaceful activists and human rights defenders since first enacted in 2012.

The revisions to the law have done little to halt the pace of arrests. The law continues to place far-ranging and arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Of particular concern is the requirement for organizers to apply for permission – at least five days in advance – to hold an assembly or procession. The law should only require organizers to notify the relevant authorities.

Furthermore, “consent” to hold peaceful assemblies can still be revoked and assemblies and processions dispersed on a range of overly broad and arbitrary grounds such as affecting “[…] the country or the Union, race, religion, human dignity and moral principles” or spreading “[…] rumours or incorrect information”, and using loudspeakers or singing chants others than the ones approved. The amended law further removes the right of individuals and organizations to appeal against decisions to revoke consent.

Under international human rights law and standards, restrictions to the right to freedom of expression must be provided by law; be limited to certain specified purposes such as national security, public order or respect of the rights or reputation of others and necessary and proportionate to the achievement of one of those permissible purposes.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has explicitly stressed that no authorization should be required to assemble peacefully.� The exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should be governed at most by a regime of prior notification, which should not be burdensome, the rationale of which is to allow state authorities to facilitate the exercise of the right and take measures to ensure public safety and order and the rights and freedoms of others.� The Special Rapporteur has recommended that notice should be subject to a proportionality assessment, and should only be required for large assemblies or those where a certain degree of disruption is anticipated, with a recommended maximum notice requirement of, for example, 48 hours.�

Also of serious concern is the fact that the revised Peaceful Assembly Law still provides for criminal sanctions for those found to be in violation of its provisions, leaving human rights defenders, political activists and others at risk of arrest and imprisonment. In particular, Article 18 which allows for the imprisonment of individuals who conduct peaceful assemblies and processions without consent remains in effect, although the maximum penalty has been halved from one year to six months in prison.

Misuse of law to charge solo-protesters

Amnesty International is also concerned that the Myanmar authorities are misusing the already flawed Peaceful Assembly Law to arrest and charge solo-protesters, in clear violation of its provisions. Article 2 of the law states that a peaceful assembly and a peaceful procession refers to the gathering of more than one person. As such, solo protests – and solo-protesters – are not covered by the Peaceful Assembly Law. But Amnesty International has received information that at least six solo-protesters have been charged under the law since the beginning of the year.

Myat Ko Ko (m), the joint secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Aunglan Township in Magway Region, was sentenced on 4 July to one month in prison for staging a solo protest calling for the resignation of a minister.

Zaw Myint (m) was charged on 22 September after staging a solo-protest in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Daw, urging the government to hold talks on the country’s future with representatives of the national Parliament, the Myanmar Army and leader of the NLD Aung San Suu Kyi.

Multiple charges leading to lengthy, cumulative sentences

Amnesty International is further concerned that authorities are using the Peaceful Assembly Law and other laws to charge activists in multiple townships for the same ‘crime’. The result is a series of cumulative sentences leading to lengthy imprisonment.

U Sein Than (m), a prominent member of the Michaungkan community, was sentenced by three different Township courts to a total of one year imprisonment under Article 18 for a protest on 21 May against the issuance of an arrest warrant against him.

Ko Htin Kyaw (m), leader of the Movement for Democratic Current Force (MDCF), has been sentenced to a total of 10 years and four months’ imprisonment by 10 Township courts under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code for distributing leaflets calling on the government to resign and by three Township courts under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law for holding protests calling on the government to resign and against land evictions.

This is a clear continuation of patterns of arrest and detention observed by Amnesty International and others in 2013.

Recommendations

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International calls on the Myanmar authorities to:

Immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights and immediately drop all charges brought against those who have solely and peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Review and amend the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law to bring it into strict compliance with international human rights law and standards.

Repeal or else review and amend all other laws, which violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, in line with international human rights law and standards.

Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) at the earliest opportunity, incorporate its provisions in domestic law and implement it in policy and practice. image1.png

“Instead of guaranteeing and protecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Myanmar, the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law has become a tool to stifle dissent.”

Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific Director, Amnesty International

The Rights to Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

“…Many laws still remain which do not conform to international human rights standards. Such laws if not revised will continue to be used to stifle freedom of expression and opinion, and interfere with the people’s rights to peaceful assembly and association”.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, 30 May 2014.

� See Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc. A/HRC/23/39, 24 April 2013, para. 51.

� Ibid.

� See Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc. A/HRC/20/27, 21 May 2012, para. 28.

Index: ASA 16/025/2014

Myanmar: Millions of Mothers and Children in Myanmar to Benefit from New World Bank Financing

16 October 2014 - 1:58am
Source: World Bank Country: Myanmar

Washington, D.C., October 14, 2014 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$100 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) to improve maternal, newborn and child health in Myanmar.

The Essential Health Services Access Project is expected to benefit about 4 million pregnant women and young children across all of Myanmar’s 330 townships. The Project aims to increase coverage of critical health services that provide quality care, with a focus on the health of mothers, infants and children.

“Providing quality health services to all people in Myanmar is one of our main priorities. With the support from the World Bank, I believe this project will help improve the quality of health services for mothers and their young children and ultimately, will help bring us closer to achieving the ambitious goal of universal health coverage,” said Dr. Thein Thein Htay, Deputy Minister, Myanmar Ministry of Health.

The project is designed to improve both the coverage and quality of maternal and child health services in Myanmar. Under the project, communities will receive grants for health services at the local level and support for implementing inclusive planning, resource management and improved local oversight. Specifically, project funds will help cover a wide range of expenses critical to the function of health facilities, such as medical supplies, facility maintenance and repairs, patient transfers, and community engagement.

“By investing in the health of mothers and children, the government is making a substantial investment in Myanmar’s future, said Abdoulaye Seck, Country Manager of the World Bank in Myanmar. The World Bank is pleased to support Myanmar’s people-centered approach to development by providing more funding to front-line health facilities to deliver better health services for people across the country.”

The US$100 million IDA credit in support of the health sector in Myanmar is part of the World Bank Group’s rapidly growing support program for the country. The World Bank Group, in close coordination with development partners, is beginning work with Myanmar on a new Country Partnership Framework. This Framework will scale up support for Myanmar—building on plans for a US$2 billion multi-year development package announced by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim during his visit to Myanmar in early 2014. The framework will also include programs to help improve agriculture, water, access to energy and education, as well as public financial management, financial inclusion, private sector development, and other key development priorities.

MEDIA CONTACTS

In Yangon
Kyaw Soe Lynn
Tel : +959 2031159
klynn@worldbank.org

In Yangon
Meriem Gray
Tel : +959 421128395
mgray@worldbank.org

China: The risk of disaster-induced displacement in south-east Asia and China

15 October 2014 - 1:33pm
Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Country: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam preview

Executive Summary

This technical paper provides evidence-based estimates of the likelihood of disaster-induced displacement in Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It attempts to better quantify human displacement risk. It brings together data from several sources – notably the Global Assessment Reports (GARs) and the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), national disaster loss inventory databases (DesInventar) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) Global Estimates – in order to better quantify human displacement risk. Applying a probabilistic risk model, it is one of the first attempts to assess how many people are at risk of being displaced by natural hazard-related disasters. It is the first attempt to do so for South-East Asia.

A new way of thinking

The study reflects an awareness of the need to see disasters as primarily social, rather than natural, phenomena. This view acknowledges the fact that humans can act and take decisions to reduce the likelihood of a disaster occurring or, at the very least, to reduce their impacts and the levels of loss and damage associated with them. Disasters are thus no longer being perceived as ‘natural’ or ‘acts of God’ but instead as something over which humans exert influence and can therefore prevent.

This reconceptualisation of disasters signifies a shift from a retrospective, post-disaster approach to an anticipatory way of thinking about and confronting disasters. This conceptual development was reflected in a public policy objective: disaster risk reduction (DRR). Strengthening DRR became a global priority in the 1990s, the United Nations’ International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, UN Member States adopted the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a ten-year plan endorsed by the UN General Assembly which aims to reduce the risk of disasters globally. The objectives codified in the HFA are currently being updated in advance of a global conference scheduled for March 2015 in Sendai, Japan, at which Member States will renew their commitment to DRR. One important outcome of the HFA process is awareness that without ability to measure it is not possible to know if disaster risk has been reduced.

In the context of disasters, displacement includes all forced population movements resulting from the immediate threat of, or actual, disaster situation regardless of length of time displaced, distance moved from place of origin and subsequent patterns of movement, including back to place of origin or re-settlement elsewhere. Based upon existing information, and notwithstanding some notable exceptions, the vast majority of people displaced by disasters are assumed to remain within their country of residence, rather than to cross internationally recognised borders to find refuge.

Displacement is a disaster impact that is largely determined by the underlying vulnerability of people to shocks or stresses that compel them to leave their homes and livelihoods just to survive. The number of people displaced is, of course, related to the magnitude and frequency of extreme hazard events. The most significant factors are those that leave exposed and vulnerable communities without the means to be resilient in the face of such hazards.

Informed by this anticipatory way of thinking about disasters, the approach used in this study departs from most existing analyses in two ways.

First, while the efforts of many governments and other actors continue to emphasise post-disaster and post-displacement response and recovery this analysis is based on probabilistic risk modelling. This uses historical information available about past disasters to provide estimates that may inform policy and action to ideally prevent, or at least to prepare for, displacement before a disaster occurs.

Second, while displacement and disasters have traditionally been associated with humanitarian relief and human rights-based protection this study analyses disaster-induced displacement in the language of the disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management communities. In sum, this study attempts to provide entry points for humanitarian and protection actors while presenting information aimed at those responsible for disaster risk reduction and risk management and development.

Regional context

The 11 countries included in this study—ASEAN Member States plus China—account for approximately 28 per cent of the entire global population. Over the last six decades, the population of these 11 countries has grown and become increasingly urban. At least half the population of Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are now estimated to reside in urban areas.
While the region’s population growth rate is slowing, urbanisation will continue apace: by 2050 the majority of the population of every country but Cambodia is expected to reside in urban centres.

South-East Asia’s population growth is mirrored by economic growth which has concentrated people and economic activities in urban areas, often located in hazard-prone areas. Consequently, people and settlements in the region are exposed to multiple hazards, such as cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes and rain- and earthquake-triggered landslides.
Analysing these 11 countries reveals striking contrasts.

Brunei and Singapore are both high-income countries with small territories and populations concentrated in urban areas. Brunei and Singapore have very little displacement risk and a high capacity to manage it.

By contrast, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and the Philippines are lower-income countries with large rural populations. They have much more risk and low capacity to manage it. China itself is a study in contrasts with several large urban areas as well as more than half a billion mostly poor people residing in rural areas.

Key Findings:

In the last six years along, nearly 30 million people have been displaced in the countries included in this study—18 per cent of the global total. Two countries in particular, China and the Philippines, account for a disproportionate share of the world’s disaster-related displacement: more than eight million Chinese and half a million Filipinos are at risk of being displaced every year.

In South-East Asia, the risk of being displaced in relation to disasters is increasing, and it has been growing even faster than the population growth rate. Compared to the past, there are more people living in hazard prone areas than before, often in cities. Meanwhile, governments have not been able to reduce the vulnerability of these people enough to offset this increasing exposure.
Relative to the size of each country’s population, displacement risk is unevenly distributed within the region.

In Singapore, a high income country, the risk of being displaced in a disaster is one in a million. By contrast for every million Laotians and Filipinos that risk is more than 7,000 and 6,000 times higher, respectively. Laotians and Filipinos are also more than ten times more likely to be displaced than Indonesians, who are also exposed to multiple geophysical and weather-related hazards.
Wealth alone does not explain vulnerability. Per capita income in China is two to three times higher than in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s exposed population is ten times more vulnerable to hazards than that of China. Regardless of a country’s wealth, governments can begin reducing vulnerability through smarter urban development and by enforcing building codes.

The majority of disaster spending is still being used to respond to – rather than to prevent – disasters. Spending on disaster response is less cost-effective than investments to reduce disaster risks and disaster relief does not always reach people who are displaced with family or friends rather than in official shelters or evacuation centres.

IDMC has not found evidence of significant cross-border displacement in relation to disasters within this region. The presence of transboundary hazards, such as riverine floods, means there is a risk of cross-border displacement for populations living and working along these borders.
The

China: The risk of disaster-induced displacement in south-east Asia and China

15 October 2014 - 1:33pm
Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre Country: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam preview

Executive Summary

This technical paper provides evidence-based estimates of the likelihood of disaster-induced displacement in Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It attempts to better quantify human displacement risk. It brings together data from several sources – notably the Global Assessment Reports (GARs) and the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), national disaster loss inventory databases (DesInventar) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s (IDMC) Global Estimates – in order to better quantify human displacement risk. Applying a probabilistic risk model, it is one of the first attempts to assess how many people are at risk of being displaced by natural hazard-related disasters. It is the first attempt to do so for South-East Asia.

A new way of thinking

The study reflects an awareness of the need to see disasters as primarily social, rather than natural, phenomena. This view acknowledges the fact that humans can act and take decisions to reduce the likelihood of a disaster occurring or, at the very least, to reduce their impacts and the levels of loss and damage associated with them. Disasters are thus no longer being perceived as ‘natural’ or ‘acts of God’ but instead as something over which humans exert influence and can therefore prevent.

This reconceptualisation of disasters signifies a shift from a retrospective, post-disaster approach to an anticipatory way of thinking about and confronting disasters. This conceptual development was reflected in a public policy objective: disaster risk reduction (DRR). Strengthening DRR became a global priority in the 1990s, the United Nations’ International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, UN Member States adopted the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a ten-year plan endorsed by the UN General Assembly which aims to reduce the risk of disasters globally. The objectives codified in the HFA are currently being updated in advance of a global conference scheduled for March 2015 in Sendai, Japan, at which Member States will renew their commitment to DRR. One important outcome of the HFA process is awareness that without ability to measure it is not possible to know if disaster risk has been reduced.

In the context of disasters, displacement includes all forced population movements resulting from the immediate threat of, or actual, disaster situation regardless of length of time displaced, distance moved from place of origin and subsequent patterns of movement, including back to place of origin or re-settlement elsewhere. Based upon existing information, and notwithstanding some notable exceptions, the vast majority of people displaced by disasters are assumed to remain within their country of residence, rather than to cross internationally recognised borders to find refuge.

Displacement is a disaster impact that is largely determined by the underlying vulnerability of people to shocks or stresses that compel them to leave their homes and livelihoods just to survive. The number of people displaced is, of course, related to the magnitude and frequency of extreme hazard events. The most significant factors are those that leave exposed and vulnerable communities without the means to be resilient in the face of such hazards.

Informed by this anticipatory way of thinking about disasters, the approach used in this study departs from most existing analyses in two ways.

First, while the efforts of many governments and other actors continue to emphasise post-disaster and post-displacement response and recovery this analysis is based on probabilistic risk modelling. This uses historical information available about past disasters to provide estimates that may inform policy and action to ideally prevent, or at least to prepare for, displacement before a disaster occurs.

Second, while displacement and disasters have traditionally been associated with humanitarian relief and human rights-based protection this study analyses disaster-induced displacement in the language of the disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management communities. In sum, this study attempts to provide entry points for humanitarian and protection actors while presenting information aimed at those responsible for disaster risk reduction and risk management and development.

Regional context

The 11 countries included in this study—ASEAN Member States plus China—account for approximately 28 per cent of the entire global population. Over the last six decades, the population of these 11 countries has grown and become increasingly urban. At least half the population of Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are now estimated to reside in urban areas.
While the region’s population growth rate is slowing, urbanisation will continue apace: by 2050 the majority of the population of every country but Cambodia is expected to reside in urban centres.

South-East Asia’s population growth is mirrored by economic growth which has concentrated people and economic activities in urban areas, often located in hazard-prone areas. Consequently, people and settlements in the region are exposed to multiple hazards, such as cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes and rain- and earthquake-triggered landslides.
Analysing these 11 countries reveals striking contrasts.

Brunei and Singapore are both high-income countries with small territories and populations concentrated in urban areas. Brunei and Singapore have very little displacement risk and a high capacity to manage it.

By contrast, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and the Philippines are lower-income countries with large rural populations. They have much more risk and low capacity to manage it. China itself is a study in contrasts with several large urban areas as well as more than half a billion mostly poor people residing in rural areas.

Key Findings:

In the last six years along, nearly 30 million people have been displaced in the countries included in this study—18 per cent of the global total. Two countries in particular, China and the Philippines, account for a disproportionate share of the world’s disaster-related displacement: more than eight million Chinese and half a million Filipinos are at risk of being displaced every year.

In South-East Asia, the risk of being displaced in relation to disasters is increasing, and it has been growing even faster than the population growth rate. Compared to the past, there are more people living in hazard prone areas than before, often in cities. Meanwhile, governments have not been able to reduce the vulnerability of these people enough to offset this increasing exposure.
Relative to the size of each country’s population, displacement risk is unevenly distributed within the region.

In Singapore, a high income country, the risk of being displaced in a disaster is one in a million. By contrast for every million Laotians and Filipinos that risk is more than 7,000 and 6,000 times higher, respectively. Laotians and Filipinos are also more than ten times more likely to be displaced than Indonesians, who are also exposed to multiple geophysical and weather-related hazards.
Wealth alone does not explain vulnerability. Per capita income in China is two to three times higher than in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s exposed population is ten times more vulnerable to hazards than that of China. Regardless of a country’s wealth, governments can begin reducing vulnerability through smarter urban development and by enforcing building codes.

The majority of disaster spending is still being used to respond to – rather than to prevent – disasters. Spending on disaster response is less cost-effective than investments to reduce disaster risks and disaster relief does not always reach people who are displaced with family or friends rather than in official shelters or evacuation centres.

IDMC has not found evidence of significant cross-border displacement in relation to disasters within this region. The presence of transboundary hazards, such as riverine floods, means there is a risk of cross-border displacement for populations living and working along these borders.
The

Myanmar: Army Orders 1,000 Villagers to Leave, As Tensions Rise Near Hpakant

15 October 2014 - 9:01am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG & MAY KHA

RANGOON — The Burma Army has ordered more than 1,000 Kachin villagers to leave three villages near the jade mining town of Hpakant, Kachin State, warning civilians that there be could fighting between the army and Kachin rebels soon, local sources said on Wednesday.

Residents of the villages of Kanzihall, Aung Bar Lay and Tang Kaw, located about 16 km (about 10 miles) from Hpakant, were told by Light Infantry Division 66 to leave their homes by Tuesday 6 pm, according to Hla San, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member based in Hpakant town.

“They told villagers to leave by 6 pm. They are worried that the villagers will be hurt if there is fighting. That is why,” said Hla San, adding that some villagers had moved to nearby towns and villages, where they would be safe from an outbreak of violence.

He said the three villages are located in an area under control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and that a local army commander had ordered the KIA units to leave the area.

“We heard that the KIA will defend their area of control, that they will fight this war. The villagers who are staying on their [KIA] side, we heard that they [KIA] are preparing to resettle them for their safety,” Hla San said.

KIA spokesman La Nan confirmed that the group had received a verbal order by a local army commander to vacate their base in the area.

“Col. Kyaw Zay Ya from Light Infantry Battalion 11 [which falls under Division 66] told us to withdraw from our base, but we did not get any written order from them, it was just a verbal instruction,” he told The Irrawaddy.

La Nan said the KIA would try to meet with Burma Army officers in the Conflict Negotiation Committee to defuse the tensions. The committee, which comprises officers from both sides, was formed last year during ceasefire talks between the KIA and the government and army in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina.

Fighting erupted in mid-2011 in the region in northern Burma after a 17-year-old ceasefire between the KIA and government broke down. In early 2013, fighting quieted down and there have been several rounds of ceasefire talks since, but the sides have failed to come to an agreement.

Conditions in Hpakant town were reportedly normal on Wednesday morning, although residents were scared to leave the town, said Hla San, of the NLD. The army deployed soldiers along the road from Hpakant to Myitkyina, while KIA fighters had taken up position on the other side of the Uru River, he said, adding that the sides are reportedly several hundreds of meters apart and able to see each other.

Hpakant is situated amidst a mountainous landscape rich in jade and most of the world’s high-quality is mined in the region. Around the town there are four camps that are home to some 2,000 internally displaced Kachin civilians.

Licensed jade mining operations were suspended in 2012 after fighting escalated. During the suspension, thousands of small-scale miners and hand-pickers moved in illegally to try their luck.

The government recently announced that small- and large-scale mining operations would resume per Sept. 1 after the rebels reached an agreement with the government to allow 10 companies back in.

According to some sources in Hpakant, the recent rise in tensions was related to complaints by companies over KIA demands for bigger payments for access to mining areas.

“The KIA asked higher taxes from mining companies. Some companies went to complaint about this to the government troops. This is why tensions have grown,” said a local mine worker, who declined to be identified.

La Nan, the KIA spokesman, said only the large companies were asked to make payment to the KIA. “Our troops only asked companies that have 30 to 40 mining blocks mining. We did not ask taxes from normal people who just come to collect some jade stone. But, based on their jade finds, if they found a large raw jade stone, we take tax from them too,” he said.

In early August, there was also a clash between the Burma Army and the KIA at a ruby mining town not far from Hpakant and some 200 villagers were displaced at the time.

Myanmar: ‘The More People Talk About HIV, the Less Discrimination We Will See’

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

By MYAT HSU MON / THE IRRAWADDY

Burma has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Asia; UNAIDS estimated that about 190,000 people in Burma were living with HIV in 2013, and that about 11,000 died that year from the incurable illness. The country’s overloaded and under-resourced health system—Burma spends less per capita on health care than any other nation in the world—offers minimal assistance for HIV-positive patients, who also suffer from severe social stigma.

The country’s main provider of anti-retroviral therapy (ART), Médecins Sans Frontières, told The Irrawaddy last year that only 40 percent of patients who needed the treatment were able to access it as of late 2012. Newly pledged assistance from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, however, was earmarked for providing ART through MSF programs.

Myanmar Positive Group (MPG) is a non-governmental organization founded in 2005 as a resource network for HIV-related community workers. The group connects organizations across the country, and currently has 159 member organizations whose work ranges from prevention to patient support and treatment. MPG coordinates an annual forum about HIV/AIDS awareness and solutions for the shortage of available care and support in Burma.

The Irrawaddy spoke with MPG Chairman Myo Thant Aung about Burma’s capacity to treat HIV and the challenges faced by both health workers and patients.

Question: What does MPG do to support people living with HIV/AIDS in Burma?

Answer: MPG represents people living with HIV [by liaising with government health officials and coordinating support among community-based groups]. We occupy four seats on Burma’s Health Sector Coordination Committee—a Union-level government agency under the Ministry of Health—which is authorized to make decisions about national health services.

We are also present on Burma’s Civil Society and Lawmakers Joint Committee—a union-level institution that brings together the Health Promotion Committee and community-based networks. As members of this committee, we work on policies to protect the rights of HIV-positive patients.

Q: When did MPG first begin hosting public forums to address these issues?

A: To understand how this came about, we need to talk about the political landscape. HIV was once considered a taboo subject in Burma. The government did not provide any information about HIV, and wouldn’t grant permission [to conduct awareness campaigns] at all. For many years, because of Burma’s prohibitive assembly laws, civil society was effectively deterred from participating in anti-HIV campaigns.

People living with HIV used to be ashamed to admit that they were infected. We began holding these conferences to show that it is OK to speak out about the illness, regardless of pride or the opinions of others. The more people talk about it, the less discrimination we will see. We want to deliver a message to people living with HIV that they don’t need to worry, they should be free to speak up.

Q: MPG’s forum is now in its eighth year. What kind of progress have you seen over that time?

A: In the past, people would come but they wouldn’t speak up because of the fear that is entrenched in our society. They wouldn’t ask any questions. When things started opening up around 2010, participants started to speak out. It has only been four years since then, and already we are seeing people actively participating, having discussions and making suggestions.

Q: Has MPG made progress toward combatting discrimination and stigmatization?

A: We have two primary goals: increasing access to medicine and ending discrimination. There are three main reasons that HIV-positive people suffer so much from discrimination: They are ashamed, they are scared, and they are uninformed. With more awareness, they know that they can live a normal life, they will not die immediately as long as they have proper treatment. When the fear goes away, they are more willing to speak out. Regarding information, when patients know more about their illness, they are better prepared to live among other people. All of these things help to reduce discrimination.

Q: What can the government do to improve its efforts to fight HIV/AIDS?

A: The health system needs to be strengthened, and that will require better health infrastructure and adequate human resources. Burma receives some aid from the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria], which is meant to meet those needs.

But the most important thing is for the Ministry of Health to work together with the people. The ministry can improve the system and the community-based organizations [CBOs] can improve the community. Right now, the two are not effectively working together, but measures are underway to improve collaboration.

Q: Can MPG and its member groups work more freely now, under the new government, or is the situation still the same?

A: The government initially did not want help from the Global Fund primarily because it didn’t want to take responsibility for the CBOs that were involved. We drew up detailed plans and budgets with personnel from the Global Fund and we presented it to the government. They found no reason to refuse and they had to accept it.

We now plan to open 20 offices in various places. Right now we have only nine offices in five areas, and we mainly help AIDS patients that are in hospitals.

Q: Are Burma’s treatment facilities and equipment adequate for treating HIV, and are those facilities available nationwide?

A: Things have improved. We have asked the international community to help us by providing medicine. We have also asked for CD4 machines [diagnostic equipment used repeatedly throughout treatment]. The government bought 74 of these machines, from the state budget, but we do not yet have national coverage. We still need to ask the government for more equipment. Handling health services for people living with HIV is an endless task.

Myanmar: Minority Language Classes Get Boost With Burma Govt Stipend

15 October 2014 - 1:15am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — The Union government will provide a stipend for schoolteachers who teach ethnic minority languages in Burma, according to ethnic leaders, in what they say would be a major win for ethnic minorities’ cultures and rights.

Ethnic leaders told The Irrawaddy that the Ministry of Education had asked them to put forward lists of schoolteachers who teach ethnic languages at state schools, with the government in Naypyidaw to pay the instructors 30,000 kyats (US$30) monthly.

If true, it would be the first time the Union government has offered to compensate teachers for dedicating a portion of their instruction to ethnic language study.

In Mon State, a pioneering curriculum that included Mon language instruction has been taught since July, making schools in the state the first to teach an ethnic minority language in a government school in more than 50 years.

An ethnic Mon parliamentarian told The Irrawaddy that he had been told the monthly stipend would be paid retroactively from July.

“We asked for 40,000 [kyats], but they agreed to provide 30,000 for one person,” said Aung Naing Oo, a lawmaker from Moulmein.

“We got our right to let our children study their mother tongue. We need to say thanks to the government. But we want to say to our Mon people, we have not achieved our political goals yet. It is just the beginning, just a little progress,” he said.

In Mon State, literature is highly valued, and Buddhist teachings are taught from a young age from Mon-language texts.

“It is important for our Mon children to be able to read their language,” said Aung Naing Oo. “Our children will understand the value of their literature when they can read in their mother language.”

Kachin Literature and Culture (KLC) told The Irrawaddy that the organization had also been informed that government schools in Kachin State would receive money from Naypyidaw for instructors who teach the Kachin language in schools. Currently, there is not an ethnic Kachin language component to government schools’ curricula in Kachin State.

Lum Nyoi, who is the joint secretary from KLC, said her group is helping to prepare government schools to teach the Kachin language.

“They [the Union government] told us to teach [the Kachin language] at schools. We have ongoing talks about the amount of teaching time,” she said.

Sai Maung Tin, a Union-level parliamentarian, said that ethnic Shan schools would also be allowed to incorporate the minority group’s language into the curriculum.

“Our schoolteachers may be provided money in the coming year’s budget,” he said. “We provide our own money to our schoolteachers at the moment.”

The Shan language is not currently taught during the school year, and children are most often given linguistic instruction over the summer months when class is not in session.

Asked about the importance of preserving the Shan language and literature, Sai Maung Tin said the matter was existential.

“Without Shan literature, the Shan people would disappear. Shan people will exist as long as their literature survives.”

Under the democratically elected U Nu government of the 1950s, all schools in Burma’s ethnic areas were permitted to teach ethnic languages, but the military regimes that ruled the country from 1962 enforced monolingual education in all state schools.

As a result, most ethnic groups in the country, as in other parts of the country, only schools run by ethnic rebel administrations have taught local languages.

Amid political reforms initiated after President Thein Sein came to power in 2011, ethnic lawmakers have made requests for mother-tongue teaching to be reinstated. Since 2012, teaching ethnic languages has been permitted, but only outside of school hours, and without any state funding.

Myanmar: Karen Rebel Groups Plan Military Cooperation

15 October 2014 - 12:57am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY

The commanders of units of different Karen rebel groups in southeastern Burma announced on Tuesday that they will begin military cooperation in order to deal with an increase in Burma Army operations in their areas in recent months.

Gen. Saw Lah Pwe, the head of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh, deputy commander-in-chief of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), who has support of KNLA brigades 2 and 5, agreed to work together. They are joined by two smaller rebel groups, the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) of Col. Nerdah Mya and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council of Col. Tiger.

The KNLA is the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest and oldest Karen ethnic armed group, and has a total of seven brigades.

The commanders said in a joint statement that they signed an agreement to begin military cooperation under the name of the Kawthoolei Armed Force. “In accordance with the wishes of the Karen people, we, the forces of KNLA, KNDO, DKBA, KNU/KNLA Peace Council, have unanimously reunified as the Kawthoolei Armed Forces,” the statement read.

Kawthoolei is the Karen name for the independent state that the Karen people have been aspiring to and fighting for since the 1940s.

The DKBA has about 1,500 fighters and KNLA brigades 2 and 5 can field an estimated 3,000 fighters. The KNDO and KNU/KNLA Peace Council are smaller groups with several hundred soldiers each.

Under the agreement, the armed groups will keep their current uniforms, insignias and flags, but they promised to cooperate and help each other in operations against the Burma Army.

The groups said their agreement had been prompted by a rise in hostile operations by the Burma Army in Karen areas of Karen and Mon states in recent months. They said these actions, as well as expanding government operations against rebels in Kachin and Shan states in northern Burma, were a reason to question the government’s commitment to the nationwide ceasefire process.

“Though the peace process has been going on for over three years, instead of achieving the expected progress, we can plainly see that the Burma Army has been carrying out activities that undermine [mutual] trust,” the statement said.

“Increasing military activities by the Burmese government army like these have caused much concern with us for the nationwide ceasefire negotiations and the peace process. For that reason, and in order to be able to protect the long-suffering people, we have to reunify the Karen national armed resistance forces,” the groups said.

The groups said they will work together with an alliance of other ethnic armed groups to negotiate with the government for the establishment of a democratic federal union of Burma, in which ethnic minorities have the right to full self-determination.

The new agreement marks a significant step towards unifying some of the Karen rebel groups, who have splintered into different groups during the past decades of rebellion. The DKBA split from the KNLA in 1994 after members of the Buddhist Karen community fell out with the predominantly Christian KNU leadership.

The DKBA fought alongside the Burma Army from 1994 until 2009. The KNU/KNLA Peace Council split from the KNLA to become a pro-government Border Guard Force in 2007, until a recent outburst of fighting near Myawaddy also affected Col. Tiger and his men.

KNU vice-chairperson Zipporah Sein told The Irrawaddy that the agreement was an important step towards uniting the Karen groups, adding that this had been demanded by the Karen community for many years.

“The aim [of the agreement] is to reunify and work together to protect the rights of Karen people. And it is a good sign and it is necessary. They [Karen communities] also have been demanding that we [armed groups] are not divided in groups and should reunify,” she said.

“Based on our agreement at the [KNU] congress, we agreed that we will try to reunify the Karen armed groups. So, [the groups] now agreed to cooperate under one name.”

KNDO commander Col. Nerdah Mya said, “As our Karen armed forces are divided into groups, we are trying to find ways to reunify them. None of them want to give up their insignias, none of them agreed to totally join another group.

“So, [military cooperation] is an idea that they all agreed to. They agreed to come under one umbrella group, the Kawthoolei Armed Forces.”

Despite the signs of Karen unity, however, it’s understood that not all within KNU leadership are happy with the new agreement, which was only signed by Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh, whose brigades 2 and 5 are known as “hardliners” in their stance towards the government.

Tensions have been steadily rising in southeastern Burma for several weeks until fighting erupted between government forces and the DKBA and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council in Myawaddy, a border town in Karen State, and in Mon State early this month. The KNLA was not involved in the fighting.

The violence broke out despite the fact that all Karen groups have signed bilateral ceasefires with the government.

President Thein Sein’s reformist government has signed bilateral ceasefires with 15 armed groups from Burma’s ethnic regions in recent years. Since last year, ethnic groups and the government have held six rounds of talks to achieve a nationwide ceasefire accord, but this has proven elusive.

The newly formed alliance of the Karen rebel groups could pose a further complication for the nationwide ceasefire process.

Myanmar: Myanmar’s Military Chief Meets Journalists Over Coverage Constraints

14 October 2014 - 11:26pm
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Myanmar

Myanmar’s military chief on Tuesday agreed to “collaborate” with the media on coverage of issues involving national security during his first-ever meeting with local press representatives.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing spent more than three hours with seven delegates from the country’s Interim Press Council, an oversight body set up last year in response to pressure to consult the media on new press laws about coverage of military-related news.

The council requested the meeting three months ago to address the issues of limited access to military officials on various issues, including the media’s coverage of battles between government troops and armed ethnic groups.

“Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has promised us that the military will collaborate with us for the [sake of the] country’s democratic process and press freedom,” Zaw Thet Htwe, a member of the press council, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We discussed ways to cover military-related news and to create a mechanism for the safety of journalists who cover military news,” he said, without elaborating on any new measures by the military to be open with the media.

Zaw Thet Htwe had told The Irrawaddy online journal before the talks that while covering armed ethnic conflicts, journalists could get statements from ethnic groups, but usually not from the army, and any quotes they did get could only be attributed to “a military officer.”

“We want to confirm [information] with an official army website or a contact person and then write the stories,” he said. “Then it will be safer for us [journalists]. We would also see a more transparent army.”

Arrests and detentions

The meeting on Tuesday came against a backdrop of recent arrests and detentions of journalists that suggest a backsliding on media reform and press freedom in the developing democracy.

In July, four reporters and the chief executive of the weekly journal Unity were each sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in prison on charges of publishing state secrets and trespassing after publishing a Jan. 25 article about an alleged chemical weapons factory in the Magwe region of central Myanmar.

The government maintained the facility was an ordinary ordnance factory.

Rights groups condemned the sentences, noting that the intimidation and arrest of journalists appeared to be worsening in the former military state, even though official censorship had ended.

Earlier this month, their sentences were reduced to seven years’ imprisonment on appeal.

On Oct. 1, Myanmar’s government said it planned to take legal action against the local Eleven Media Group for publishing an article alleging official corruption in the purchase of a printing press.

The Ministry of Information said the story published in the June 2 edition of the Weekly Eleven News Journal had misstated facts about the deal, although the media company said it had evidence to back its claim.

Safety measures

Zaw They Haw discussed with Min Aung Hlaing and seven other military officers at the meeting the recent sentencing of the Unity journalists and other reporters as well as measures to ensure the safety of those who cover military news.

He also stressed the importance of communication with the army to keep the public informed.

“We told him that journalists are the medium through which people have a right to access information,” he told RFA. “We explained that people … from the military must understand the nature of journalists and should help them.”

During the meeting, Min Aung Hlaing said the army was keen to stop the armed conflict with ethnic groups and bring about peace.

He also said he was “sad” that journalists sometimes referred to his forces as the government military rather than the people’s army.

Under Myanmar’s nearly five decades of military rule, journalists were forbidden to cover certain topics such as corruption, poverty and natural disasters, and government crackdowns landed many reporters in prison.

But the reformist administration of current President Thein Sein, who came to power in 2011, has implemented a series of reforms to push Myanmar towards democracy, including new laws enshrining media freedom.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 08–14 October

14 October 2014 - 8:19am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, 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, Paraguay, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tonga, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen, South Sudan preview

Central African Republic: 5,600 people have fled Bangui after a new wave of violence killed at least eight and injured 56. WASH and health are priority needs among the IDPs. A UN peacekeeper was ambushed and killed on the outskirts of the capital. In Kemo, IDPs have been slow to return as tensions have increased: ex-Seleka attacked Dekoa market on 11 October.

Libya: Violence continues, and over 331,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance. 100,000 have been displaced since September, bringing the total number of displaced to 290,000. IDPs are living with host families or in public buildings.

Yemen: 80,000 people have been displaced by violence so far in 2014. Two attacks were reported in Hadramaut in the last week. In Sanaa, an Al Qaeda attack on Al Tahrir square killed 47. The violence in the capital has raised critical concerns regarding violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.

Updated: 14/10/2014. Next update: 21/10/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Myanmar: UNFPA backs pilot to upgrade Myanmar’s Reproductive Health Supply Chain System

14 October 2014 - 1:45am
Source: UN Population Fund Country: Myanmar

Providing women and families across Myanmar with better access to choices in reproductive health services and products are the key aims of a three month pilot study for a standardized and digital national logistic supply chain system, backed by UNFPA in partnership with John Snow Inc. and Myanmar's Ministry of Health.

The study took effect in mid-September and will run until December 2014. It is being piloted in twelve townships and four states and regions (Ayeyarwaddy, Mandalay, Southern Shan and Yangon). Approximately 700 health workers such as midwives, health assistants and other health service providers are participating in the pilot study. It will cover 10% of the country.

One focal point from each of the participating 12 pilot townships, or 57 health centres, has received training on how to enter data into the fully automated computerized operating system or the Reproductive Health Commodity Logistics System (RHC-LS). The current practice within Myanmar on measuring stock level of health commodities is done manually through a paper based reporting system. In addition to the paper reports being entered into the automated system, 9 health providers have been shown how to operate the system via a specially devised application (app) known as “Logistimo” to use on their mobile phones.

Daw Nant Pattein, a female health worker from Dedayae Township in Ayeyarwady is one of the lucky 9 persons whom are actively testing the user friendliness of the digital Logistimo application (app) on her mobile phone devise.

Within the three day training session held in Dedayae Township in early September she quickly learnt, much to her delight, how to use the digital supply chain system in real time.

The supply chain system, once operational will identify reproductive health stakeholders and alongside agreed responsibilities. The system will help keep track of existing stock levels of medical products, storage facilities, distribution of goods including identifying where supplies are needed and how much is required and distributed to the right locations. This will help minimize and avoid stockpiling, as well as properly track stock to prevent products from going missing or supplies getting too low. Expiry dates can also be closely monitored to make efficient use of supplies. Once the pilot project has been completed, the findings will be reviewed and implemented nationwide.

"This automated supply chain system will allow for the user in real time to physically track existing stock levels as well as show where stocks a lacking commodities within the piloted areas. Thirty reproductive health commodities are currently included in the pilot, but the aim is to once it is fully up and running, more can be added,” said Ms. Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative of Myanmar. “This new system will help improve Myanmar’s health system.”

UNFPA is partnering with the Ministry of Health, John Snow International and Relief International on this innovative ‘pilot within a pilot project’, with the aim of catapulting Myanmar into the digital age and overhaul the country’s supply chain system starting with 31 different kinds of reproductive health products.

Prior to the September launch of the three month pilot study several national logistics system design consultations were organised out throughout 2013 and 2014 in order to agree on a vision for the system, and design standard tools and processes for managing information and commodities, including a Logistics Management Information System (LMIS). Key finding from these deliberations was transcribed into a standard operating procedures (SOP) manual was which was approved by the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Myanmar: Monitoring Update: Self-Reported Diarrhea Tracking + Water Quality Analysis

14 October 2014 - 12:45am
Source: Solidarités International Country: Myanmar preview

Diarrhea Tracking in Emergencies

Why should WASH agencies undertake something that is traditionally a health sector activity?

  • Data can be used to compliment and cross-check existing surveillance data

  • To provide informational support to areas that are under-served by existing surveillance systems

  • Real-time early warning system for AWD/ Cholera outbreaks in high risk areas

  • To be used in for targeting and messaging for hygiene promotion programming

  • WASH partners tend to have large outreach teams already present in intervention areas, making data collection a simple part of outreach work

-To be used as impact indicators in project evaluation

Thailand: Pa La U Medical Update – 27th Sep 2014

14 October 2014 - 12:21am
Source: Jungle Aid Country: Myanmar, Thailand

On 27th September we visited two villages to provide medical assistance and conduct other community development work. Whilst we took twelve volunteers to Bang Saphan, we were able to take a further eight to Baan Pa La U, including a doctor and supporting medical staff.

On the way to Pa La U we picked up our translator at the Home for Students, where the doctor, Tass, treated the first patient of the day – a small child with a chronic chest infection. After travelling for another hour we arrived at Pa La U where over fifty people were waiting for us. Our medical team saw 41 patients in total, many of who were mothers, infants and elderly people who have no other access to health care.

As well as treating skin, chest and stomach infections there were several injuries that required attention. One ten-year-old girl had slipped on rocks in the river whilst gathering water the morning we arrived and had sustained a major gash on her chin. The medical staff were able to deal with it to prevent infection and reduce the likelihood of visible scarring.

As well as running the medical clinic, our volunteers also progressed other community development projects that are underway. We evaluated the water pumping system that was installed in June to ensure that it was still operating effectively and was being maintained. The system requires no power since it fills a large tank in the centre of the village using only pressure from the height difference in water at two places on the nearby river.

We trained one local person to clean the water intake and the pump and make sure that the pipe was correctly positioned so that water would continue to flow freely. Several villagers commented that the pumping system was very useful since it gave much easier access to clean water. They suggested that another system be installed on the opposite bank to help people there too. As a result we surveyed the site and made plans to install a second system on a future trip.

We also assessed how the village could use pumped water to irrigate a vegetable garden, which could supplement and improve the diets of the community. Currently small vegetable plots are used for part of the year but these dry out when there is no rain. With the involvement of the Pa La U villagers, the development of a community vegetable garden is likely to be an exciting project for the future.

Before we left Pa La U, we distributed clothes, shoes, toys, learning materials and mosquito nets. Colette and Nish, who had brought most of the items from a ‘clothes drive’ at their school in Bangkok, took the lead in handing out items to the many families in need. Though Nish’s own shoes were accidentally given out in the excitement, he managed to track them down and retrieve them to much hilarity.

Again it was a fantastic day thanks to our amazing volunteers and incredible donors.

Thailand: 53 Migrants Detained After Thai Trafficking Bust

14 October 2014 - 12:04am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand

By LAWI WENG

RANGOON — Scores of refugees are in detention after being rescued by Thailand’s anti-human trafficking police from a rubber plantation just north of Phuket in Thailand’s Phang Nga province.

The 53 men were found by police in an early morning raid on Saturday. Two male Thai nationals have been arrested on charges of human trafficking.

Many of the victims were Rohingya Muslims who lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing communal violence and other forms of persecution in western Burma’s Arakan State. Some of the victims, however, said that they were from Bangladesh.

The group was reportedly intercepted by human traffickers after setting off by boat to seek jobs in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Htoo Chit, executive director of Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, met the trafficking victims in a Phang Nga detention center.

“When I went to meet them,” said Htoo Chit, “some of them showed me their cards from UNHCR [the United Nations refugee agency], which prove that they are from Myanmar [Burma]. They moved to the Bangladesh border because they could stay there as refugees, as they had many difficulties [in Burma].”

The men were taken into police custody at around 4 am on Saturday morning, he said, adding that another group of about 30 refugees were also discovered and detained on the same day.

Thirty-seven people—including an unknown number of women—were detained earlier this month in a similar operation.

Most of the victims will remain in police custody until they can be repatriated, said Htoo Chit, but those who have identified themselves as Rohingya may face longer detention as they are not citizens of either Burma or Bangladesh.

Victims said that they had initially left Bangladesh on a small boat, after being promised jobs in Malaysia by an employment broker. The risky voyage across the Andaman Sea is common this time of year, as the monsoon season winds die down and waters are less volatile.

The journey can be deadly nonetheless; many migrants and refugees die en route as the small, poorly equipped boats frequently capsize or run out of supplies. Those that complete the journey run other risks, such as being intercepted by human traffickers.

Some of the victims detained on Saturday told Htoo Chit that they were transferred from their small boat to a bigger one, which idled in the sea waiting for the refugees to arrive.

“They told me that it took them 19 days to get from Bangladesh to Thailand. They had to stop several times along the way. They spent five days on a small Thai Island, and then they went to the plantation where they were supposed to be taken by car to Malaysia,” he said.

While the dangerous voyage has become increasingly common over the past two years—after communal violence tore apart communities, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 100,000 people—Saturday’s incident had some alarming distinctions.

At least one victim said that he was neither an asylum seeker nor an economic refugee. A man wishing to be referred to simply as Mohamed told Htoo Chit that his hands were bound and he was forced to get on the boat, indicating that some of the victims may have been kidnapped.

Other media reports have cited similar accounts. Agence France-Presse cited an anonymous Thai official saying that, “Some of them were knocked out with anesthetic and taken to the boat, some were tricked … but they did not intend to come to Thailand.”

Htoo Chit described the victims, who still face an indeterminate detention in the crowded Thai facility, as malnourished and weak.

“All of them look very tired, like their bodies have not had enough food,” he said. “They were lying on the floor when we got there.”

More than 140,000 people, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims, were displaced by several rounds of communal riots that began in Arakan State in June 2012. Most are still living in crowded displacement camps where they are systematically denied access to basic health care, education and other resources. Chronically dire conditions for displaced persons have led many to flee again; some seek asylum in Bangladesh, while many others head south to seek refuge in Malaysia.

The United Nations estimated in June 2014 that more than 86,000 people had attempted the perilous route across the Andaman Sea since June 2012. Newer UN data claims that more than 20,000 have made the trip since the start of 2014 alone.

World: World celebrates resilience and older people

13 October 2014 - 3:22pm
Source: UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Country: Bhutan, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, World

By Denis McClean

GENEVA, October 13, 2014 - A tsunami of 4.5 million tweets rolled out across the world today in support of the 25th International Day for Disaster Reduction as UNISDR and HelpAge International joined forces to launch Charter 14 for Older Persons in Disaster Risk Reduction.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said: “Disaster planning must take account of the reduced mobility experienced by many older persons…[Their] needs should also be taken into account in early warning systems, social protection mechanisms, evacuation and emergency response plans, and public awareness campaigns.”

Governments and civil society organizations were today urged to give their backing to Charter 14 and to ensure that older people are specifically mentioned in national disaster management and climate policies and their knowledge and experience are taken on board.

Charter 14’s Minimum Standards call for older people to be represented in DRR management and governance from the community to the national level “to ensure that their voice is heard.”

Asia has responded in force to Charter 14. Bhutan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have already signed up. "Setting minimum standards for involving older persons in disaster risk management, is important to ensure that their needs are understood and fully met. The Government of Thailand is happy to commit to the implementation of these minimum standards and to sign up to the Charter 14 for a fully inclusive disaster risk management in our country" said Mr. Chatchai Phromlert, Director-General of Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Ministry of Interior from the Government of Thailand at a major event in Bangkok yesterday.

UNISDR head, Margareta Wahlström, today personally handed out copies of Charter 14 to diplomats and government representatives participating in consultations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction in Geneva. The new framework will be adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, next March. She stressed that while people over 60 comprise 11% of the population today, they would outnumber children aged under ten by the year 2030.

Ms. Wahlström said as demographics change and older persons remain more active in their communities and improve their physical fitness, they should be seen not just as a vulnerable group but as an important resource to strengthen disaster risk reduction at community level.

At the same action, she said, action is needed to reduce the death toll among older persons in major disaster events even in developed countries.

It has been a long weekend of celebration in some parts of the world where International Day came early. Over 3,000 runners ran through the streets of Cairo on Friday in a resilience run and on the same day Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Steven Blaney, endorsed “The Resilience is For Life” theme of International Day and stated that resilience means the capacity of all citizens to cope and recover during an emergency.”

Minister Blaney recalled a number of recent tragedies including a fire at L’Isle-Verte seniors’ residence which claimed 32 lives, and said: “While all disasters cannot be prevented, we can strengthen the physical and social structures in our communities to reduce their impact, and improve our ability to recover from them.” Public Safety Canada will host the Fifth Annual Roundtable of Canada’s Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 21 in Toronto.

Over 250 organizations, UN agencies, NGOs, businesses and individuals signed up to today’s Thunderclap announcement on the Twitter platform, calling for age inclusive disaster risk management. They reached 4.5 million followers, many of whom have re-tweeted the message to their followers.

All members of the disaster risk reduction community are encouraged to keep us posted on their events. We welcome photos, videos and stories about your efforts for our special web page: http://www.unisdr.org/2014/iddr/#.VDwMHPmSzy4

Date: 13 Oct 2014

Sources: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)

India: Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (8 - 13 October 2014)

13 October 2014 - 5:50am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka preview

INDIA

On 12 Oct, Cyclone Hud Hud made landfall in the vicinity of Visakhapatnam City in the state of Andhra Pradesh with wind speeds of between 180-195 kph and 2-3 metre waves pounding the coast. At least six people have been killed and 150,000 people have been evacuated and sheltered in relief centres and schools. The National Crisis Management Committee will launch a detailed assessment shortly, though preliminary information indicates widespread damage in the four affected districts.

6 people dead

150,000 people evacuated

PHILIPPINES

From 7-8 Oct, flash floods have affected more than 9,000 families in Sultan Kudarat municipality in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Local Government rescue teams were dispatched to assess the damage and have prepared and distributed up to 3,000 food packs to the affected areas.

9,000 families affected

CHINA

One person was killed and 324 injured after a 6.6M earthquake rattled Jinggu County in Yunnan Province on 7 Oct. Nearly 93,000 were affected of whom 57,000 have been relocated.

1 person dead

324 people injured

SRI LANKA

Over 3,400 people are affected in the southern parts of Sri Lanka due to high winds, heavy rain and landslides. Currently, 85 people are in three welfare centres in Rathnapura district due to floods and landslides. In total, 15 houses are reported as partially damaged.

MYANMAR

On 11 October, four civilians were killed and several wounded when a mortar bomb hit a crowded road near the towns of Kawkareik and Myawaddy, Kayin State. There have been clashes in Karen State for more than a fortnight between the Myanmar military and rebels from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA), a splinter group of the larger Karen National Union.

4 civilians killed

Between 27 Sep and 8 Oct, 234 people have tested positive for cholera out of 380 presented patients in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township. Township and health authorities have been conducting hygiene checks and urging people with symptoms to seek medical assistance.

234 patients with cholera

JAPAN

Tropical Cyclone Vongfong is expected to make landfall on 13 Oct. The storm previously reached Category 5 status, the highest possible, but has weakened significantly and is currently a tropical storm.
Preliminary reports from Japan indicate 45 people injured and one missing. The local authorities in five prefectures have issued evacuation advisories for more than 44,000 people.

45 people injured

44,000 people evacuated

INDONESIA

Mt. Sinabung continued erupting though no casualties or displacement have been reported.

Myanmar: Information Ecosystems in Transition: A Case Study from Myanmar

13 October 2014 - 1:17am
Source: Internews Network Country: Myanmar preview

How to Inform, Empower and Impact Communities

Myanmar’s recent relaxing of political, economic, and social restrictions has provided a unique opportunity to conduct research in Myanmar’s ethnic states. This report on Mon State’s information ecosystem is the first in a planned series of studies into the demographic, news media, and information dynamics that characterize Mon State as well as Myanmar’s six other ethnic states—Chin, Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Kayin (Karen), Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan.

There can be few places left in the world where almost half the population does not know what the Internet is. The Mon State pilot research has particular value in attempting to describe the information ecosystem of a target community situated at an unprecedented tipping point in the history of a closed society. Key structural factors (governance, technology, economy) are changing suddenly, simultaneously exerting profound change in the ways in which citizens access and use information. Whilst experience drawn from other political transitions may be indicative of future trends in Myanmar, there has rarely been an opportunity to track and chart such sudden and extreme change.

An information ecosystem is not a static entity; it is by nature constantly evolving and changing. Nor is it a discrete form; it can be defined at many levels, from global to national to community to interest-based groupings within communities. Any examination of an information ecosystem goes beyond traditional audience research on media access and consumption; it adds considerations of information needs and information creation and distribution as fluid systems that adapt and regenerate according to the broader developmental challenges and needs of a given community.

The research focuses on three themes. Firstly, it identifies and maps the information environment in Mon State in terms of technology and media use across urban, rural, non-conflict, and former conflict geographic areas. Secondly, the flow of news and information is examined to see how individuals receive information and then make decisions about sharing it with others. Thirdly, the report examines the dynamics underlying the trust and influence of news and information among individuals in Mon State.

The report draws from quantitative and qualitative research commissioned by the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning (ICIL) from December 16, 2012 to January 5, 2013 in Mon State, Myanmar. The research sampled respondents from across Mon State, and combines quantitative data from a 500 household survey covering urban, rural, non-conflict, and former conflict areas, with qualitative data from 12 focus group discussions and 24 key informant interviews in both non-conflict and former conflict areas.

Some of the key findings of this report are consistent with the current image of Myanmar opening its doors and airwaves to a brave new influx of information. More frequently there emerges a mixed picture as to access, and some thought-provoking findings around trust and flow of information. In Myanmar today there exists the risk that under the guise of increased media access, the formerly “information dark” ecosystems which prevailed across much of the country under military rule may be seamlessly replaced with “information lite” ecosystems in which unsophisticated media audiences consume primarily entertainment and “managed” news content. This sleight of hand would replicate the information ecosystems of the “disciplined democracies” of Singapore, Malaysia and China - to which Myanmar aspires - by (at best) doing nothing to foster the development of an informed citizenry and (at worst) perpetuating state influence over the architecture of public information and discourse.

For those who wish to see an increase in both the quantity and quality of content feeding into local information ecosystems as a way of enhancing development or democracy/governance goals, it will be important to temper runaway excitement about Myanmar’s “opening” with an understanding of some of the constraints and idiosyncrasies in the country’s national and local information ecosystems. It is the contention of this paper that a better understanding of the information ecology of any given community or population will be helpful in developing holistic strategies that harness dynamics in that ecology to improve the chances of information actually reaching its destination.

Myanmar: Four civilians killed in explosion in troubled Myanmar region

12 October 2014 - 5:18am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

10/12/2014 - 07:40 GMT

Four civilians including a 12-year-old boy were killed and several wounded when a mortar bomb hit a crowded road in conflict-hit eastern Myanmar, witnesses and police said on Sunday.

The incident happened on Saturday in an area of Karen state near the Thai border, which residents say has been rattled by fighting in recent weeks between troops and a rebel splinter group representing the ethnic Karen minority.

The latest round of talks aimed at securing a nationwide ceasefire in a nation beset by ethnic insurgencies ended in deadlock late last month -- leaving the government still short of its target of reaching peace before elections next year.

A "heavy weapon" hit the road between the towns of Kawkareik and Myawaddy on Saturday morning, a local police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Three men and a 12-year old boy were killed. Another two women and eight more men -- including an abbot from a nearby monastery -- were wounded," the policeman said.

A local hospital official, also asking not to be named, confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at eight.

It was not clear who fired the weapon. Witnesses told AFP a mortar bomb struck a group of passengers who had left their vehicles which were blocked by a broken-down lorry.

Residents said the attack was probably linked to recent fighting between troops and rebels from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA), a splinter group of the larger Karen National Union.

Neither side was immediately available for comment but the army has a position near the road.

There have been clashes in Karen state for more than a fortnight after the DKBA apparently baulked at the movement of soldiers in the tense area -- even though the group signed a peace accord with the army more than a decade ago.

Efforts to negotiate a nationwide end to decades of civil conflicts in minority borderlands have been a government priority.

Myanmar has so far signed ceasefires with 14 of the 16 major armed ethnic groups.

The Karen National Union has joined peace talks and a new round is scheduled for late October.

hla/apj/sm

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: New Database to Help Myanmar Better Assess Loss and Damage Risks from Disasters

12 October 2014 - 4:47am
Source: UN Development Programme Country: Myanmar

[Pathein – Oct 7] Myanmar is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world and the risk of hazards turning into disasters is predicted to further increase because of global warming.

Detailed information on the destructive nature of past disasters in Myanmar is scattered or missing.

The Government of Myanmar, through its Relief and Resettlement Department, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN-Habitat have set out to create a database to capture the losses and damages from past disasters, and put in place systems to continue updating the resulting Myanmar Disaster Loss and Damage Database.

Last week, the Relief and Resettlement department met with more than 20 other governmental units in Ayeyarwaddy Region to pilot data collection on disasters at a township level. Some of these government units collect information about the damages and losses caused by disasters such as human casualties, destroyed farmlands and buildings, for their departmental use.

The meeting marked the first step towards extracting data from past damages and losses caused by disasters in the Ayeyarwaddy region.

U Than Soe, the Director of RRD in Pathein expects the full participation of government departments in sharing data from their archives that could improve policies to reduce the risk of disasters. “This meeting was held so that other departments come to appreciate the importance of data collection”.

“A first step towards a better understanding of risks is to study the losses and damages incurred during past disasters. In Myanmar, the losses and damages from disasters are not systematically recorded, resulting in poor understanding of the emerging pattern and trends of disaster risks. This contributes to the lack of targeted action,” said Lat Lat Aye, the Team Leader for Environmental Governance and Disaster Risk Reduction at UNDP Myanmar.

The available information is sometimes incoherent, as the existing reports were not originally compiled into one single database. An additional impediment is that the information is only available in printed copies.

Following the meeting in Pathein, the government departments will extract data from their existing records. Data will eventually be entered into the DesInvenar database, a system which UNDP is already using for similar purposes in more than 60 countries.

The Myanmar Disaster Loss and Damage Database will develop national capacities for monitoring and analyzing risks and vulnerabilities to support disaster risk reduction, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Data on disasters will therefore serve to generate risk information and contribute to informed decision-making and planning at national and sub-national levels. This is particularly so in the case of small and medium disasters, which, unlike major catastrophes, are typically absent from public consciousness.

Once set up, Government Departments in Myanmar will continue to update the database.

UNDP’s disaster risk reduction project in Myanmar aims to build disaster resilient communities by enhancing the country’s disaster risk management institutions, systems and networks. The project is designed to build preparedness, mitigation, recovery capacities of communities, as well as the civil society and local and national institutions to manage the impact of disasters, as well as the capacity to incorporate DRR into development planning.

Myanmar: Heavy shelling during renewed Burma Army offensive causes civilian deaths and further displacement of hundreds in central Shan State

10 October 2014 - 12:11pm
Source: HART Country: Myanmar preview

Burma Army operations against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army in central Shan State since early October have caused widespread damage, loss of civilian lives, and further displacement of hundreds of villagers in Ke See township.

Between October 2-4, 2014, deploying a combined force of nine battalions with at least 2,000 troops, the Burma Army launched a renewed offensive against SSPP/SSA positions in Ke See. Hundreds of artillery shells (60, 81 and 120 mm) were fired, including at civilian targets. Two elderly villagers were killed and one severely injured. Two other village leaders were shot and killed on their way to market. Burma Army troops have also committed abuses such as beating and looting of villagers’ property.