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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccinations, for example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Executive Summary

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

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

Bangladesh: Bangladesh navy rescues over 600 boatpeople in Bay of Bengal

18 November 2014 - 7:44pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar

Teknaf, Bangladesh: Bangladesh navy rescued more than 600 boatpeople from a large trawler - carrying Burmese flag - adrift in the Bay of Bengal on November 17, while they were trying to go to Malaysia by sea route, said Noor Mohamed, a local from Teknaf town.

On being tipped off, a team of Bangladesh Navy – Durjoy - went to the deep sea and rescued 600 boatpeople or fortune seekers where the large trawler was waiting for passengers (voyagers) 50 nautical miles southeast of Saint Martin Island, according to Lt Commander Mostafa Kamal, who is in charge of the island's naval base and was on board Durjoy.

The 600 fortune seekers, including 20 women and children, were of Bangladesh and Burmese nationalities, Identities of the rescued could not be known immediately, Lt Commander Kamal said. “We detained 14 crew members of the wooden boat.”

“We expect to reach the shore in the early morning the next day (November 18) and the rescued fortune seekers will be handed over to Teknaf police,” said Lt Commander Kamal. But, Mukhter Hossain, officer-in-charge of Teknaf Police Station, told that the rescued persons will be handed over to Patenga Police Station of Chittagong.

Official also said that a group of traffickers take the fortune seekers to locations around Bangladesh-Burma sea border where Burmese or Thai carrying flags trawlers wait to take them to Malaysia.

According to local sources, some big trawlers of Burma, Thailand wait at the far end of Bangladesh sea borders to pick up fortune seekers or boatpeople for nearly two week or a month, to load the fortune seekers and then start their journey for Malaysia.

The traffickers –local - carry small groups or have 25-30 people by small engine boats, to reach the large trawler, local sources more added.

A boatpeople said that the traffickers take 200,000 to 250,000 taka from a fortune seeker after reaching Thailand.

Mostly Rohingya Muslims are continue going to Malaysia from Arakan State, Burma because of human rights abuses, harassments and have been denying the citizenship rights of Rohingya by the concerned authorities of Burma, said a Rohingya refugee elder on condition of anonymity.

Similarly, the registered or unregistered Rohingya refugees have been living in very inhuman condition in Bangladesh since over two decades, but they don’t see their future goals and durable solutions. So, Rohingya refugees are also going to Malaysia from the Bangladesh refugee camps for seeking best future , he further said.

Besides, hundreds of Bangladeshi people are leaving for Malaysia for seeking jobs by the sea route. If Bangladeshi people want to go to Malaysia by legal way, they will need more money. So, they are willing go to Malaysia from Bangladesh by risky boats, local people from Tekanf town said.

Most of the Bangladeshi fortune seekers from all over the country, arrived for searching traffickers to find the way to go to Malaysia by paying money. Nobody is hijacking or kidnapping anyone to send to Malaysia as the fortune seekers are looking way to go Malaysia with cheapest, said Hamid, a boatpeople watchdog from border area.

The fortune seekers are lying that they were kidnapped by traffickers to send to Malaysia, when they were arrested by authorities – Bangladesh or Thailand- to save them and not to stay in jail, Hamid more said.

Similarly, the fortune seekers trafficking network also said their contact groups are not doing like kidnapping people from Bangladesh as they are getting fortune seekers with money. So they didn’t do another crime like kidnapping, they are already working crime as trafficking people.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 12–18 November

18 November 2014 - 2:15pm
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, 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, 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, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen

Snapshot 12–18 November

Ethiopia: Waters have begun to recede from Leitchuor refugee camp in Gambella, but few refugees have returned to the camps so far, where alarming rates of severe malnutrition persist: 5.7% in Leitchuor, 7.8% in Kule, and 10% in Tierkidi. In SNNPR, flooding was reported, while in Oromia, water trucking has begun for populations affected by drought.

South Sudan: Bombing was reported in Maban, Upper Nile state, where over 125,000 Sudanese refugees are living. In Jonglei, heavy fighting has displaced about 35,000, while illegal checkpoints have been set up in Malakal Protection of Civilians site.

Nigeria: The Government is expected to extend the state of emergency for another six months, until May 2015, as a series of attacks and battles have taken place in the northeastern states. Mubi and Chibok, both taken by Boko Haram, have been retaken by government forces with the support of militias. Thousands have fled the fighting.

Updated: 18/11/2014. Next update: 25/11/2014

Myanmar: 10 Million Stateless and Growing: How Donors Can Help

18 November 2014 - 6:19am
Source: Center for Global Development Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Just by saying the word “Rohingya” last week in Myanmar, President Obama entered the fray of a decades-long struggle for rights among the Muslim minority group in Myanmar. The Myanmar government would prefer that others not use the word; a 1982 law there classifies all Rohingya as “Bengalis,” despite the fact that most of the 1.3 million Rohingya living in Myanmar have never lived in Bangladesh, let alone emigrated from there.

The Rohingya crisis is escalating. The increased pressure, intimidation, and violence have led to a growing exodus from the region. Myanmar has issued an ultimatum to the Rohingya: They can qualify for citizenship if they are able to prove that their family has lived in Myanmar for more than 60 years. If they cannot, they face deportation. This law would likely render the vast majority of these people as stateless, joining the ranks of the 10 million stateless people all over the world today, according to UNHCR estimates.

Statelessness is certainly a human rights issue. It is also a development issue, and donors and multilaterals should acknowledge it as such, especially in funding legal identity or civil registration programs in developing countries.

What it means to be stateless

Not having a legal citizenship deprives people of legal identity. They cannot travel easily or participate in economic activities or social programs as others can. Today, 27 countries deny women the right to pass their citizenship on to their children. This means those born to a mother with valid citizenship will nonetheless remain stateless if their father is stateless, causing chains of statelessness that span generations.

By definition, the stateless have no legal claims to recognition or services from the governments of the countries that they live in. Their only formal agency lies in the ability of international groups such as UNHCR to identify stateless populations, to prevent new cases of statelessness from occurring, to provide some legal protection to the stateless, and to reduce the prevalence of statelessness as an international phenomenon. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons sets minimum standards of treatment for the stateless. They are entitled to the same rights as citizens with respect to freedom of religion and education, and are to enjoy the same treatment as non-nationals when it comes to employment, housing, and the right of association. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness focuses on breaking the cycle of statelessness at birth by requiring states to grant citizenship to children born on their territory or born to their nationals abroad. It also prohibits the withdrawal of citizenship from nationals if doing so would result in statelessness. To date, the 1954 convention has 85 signatories and the 1961 convention only 61.

Mixed progress across countries

The key factor end statelessness is political will from countries themselves, and some have made progress in recent years. Since signing on in 2013 to the UN conventions noted above, Côte d’Ivoire simplified its process for naturalization, allowing many of the 700,000 stateless people there to gain citizenship. Similarly, a 2008 High Court ruling in Bangladesh caused 300,000 stateless Urdu speakers to be recognized as citizens.

Yet, many countries continue to withhold citizenship from long-time resident populations, resulting in statelessness. There have been dangerous precedents set in countries such as the Dominican Republic, where steps toward consolidating national identity through the provision of national ID cards have included in a constitutional court ruling that stripped de facto citizenship from tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The role of donors

Solutions can be relatively low-cost and reforms can be simple. On November 4, UNHCR launched a 10-year campaign to end statelessness, called “I Belong.” UNHCR’s increased budget for statelessness aims to enact actions such as ramping up birth registration for the stateless, pushing countries to grant citizenship to the children of stateless parents, and eliminating discrimination based on gender or ethnicity when it comes to citizenship. Often, these changes can go hand in hand with existing efforts to ramp up legal identity for citizens. An organized international effort to pressure governments is the best shot at success.

Our research suggests that donors support at least half of all projects that deal with identification in developing countries and that they can play an important role in UNHCR’s “I Belong” campaign. The process of tightening up national identification systems in many developing countries should serve as a platform to engage the stateless populations as well (see our forthcoming CGD policy paper on the spread of national ID systems). UNHCR’s 10 Actions to end statelessness highlight the importance of ensuring birth registration, nationality documentation, and improving quantitative and qualitative data on stateless populations. An inclusive approach toward these groups should be high on donors’ priorities in order to ensure that countries’ civil registration infrastructure does not marginalize the most vulnerable. Inclusive systems are not only important from a human-rights perspective: they are also central to effective and capable governance and to enabling governments to benefit from the “Data Revolution” to help guide and monitor development programs and progress. Even as donors provide technical and financial assistance to strengthen civil registration and identification systems, they should encourage their client countries to ratify the Conventions in support of the goal of providing legal identity to all.

Myanmar: Tropical Cyclone Nargis Damage Assessment Map (As of 14 May 2008)

18 November 2014 - 3:40am
Source: Myanmar Information Management Unit, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Learning from Cyclone Nargis: Investing in the environment for livelihoods and disaster risk reduction

Myanmar: Rakhine State Cluster Monthly Review September - October 2014

17 November 2014 - 7:09am
Source: UN Children's Fund, WASH Cluster Country: Myanmar

Context, main events of the months

“WASH in schools” orientation session in Rakhine

The WASH Cluster and UNICEF WASH Section organized an orientation session in Sittwe. The session included participants from NGOs working in WASH and Education, State Education Department, State Health Department, Minister of Social Affairs, Township Education Officers and Township Medical Officers. The overall goal was to increase understanding and awareness of the national WASH in school policy currently being developed and share existing tools in order to allow a harmonized implementation in Rakhine state, and strengthening the links with local authorities.

Hygiene kit Post Distribution monitoring

As part of the Cluster’s efforts to streamline monitoring and evaluation, a harmonized Post-Distribution Monitoring (PDM) system has been developed by the WASH Cluster collective to be used as a standard for all distributions allowing to monitor the distribution of WASH items and their relevance, also allowing to document the current impact of the kits.

Emergency Water Treatment training

As part of the Contingency Response Plan, communities at risk would be evacuated to pre-identified sites. The WASH agencies would then be requested to install water treatment units for the people. The training aims at providing the attendees the basics of the set-up of an emergency water treatment in order to supply safe drinking water. 18 participants from 8 NGOs and Government attended the training on the 9th and 10th of October in ACF Tet Khel Pyien center.

Humanitarian Response Plan 2015

The HRP 2015 has been designed by the WASH Cluster members. This was the opportunity to review the main strategic orientations and the main priorities for the next year. The detailed strategy exercise will be done during early December.

Ohn Taw Gyi South – a gap definitely covered

Following the departure of Malteser as the WASH agency in charge of this enormous camp (14000 IDP), Oxfam has been temporarily and partially covering until a definitive agency was identified. The official hand-over from Oxfam to DRC has taken place on the 25th of September, hand-over reports and joint assessments have been completed.

Kyaw Taw – approval for intervention finally granted

The conflict affected population in Kyauk Taw Township has remained uncovered since the beginning of the inter-communal violence in 2012 due to an array of challenges. After long months of negotiation for WASH interventions by Oxfam, the approval by the Township authorities has been granted. Joint technical assessment with authorities with authorities was completed and intervention is now ongoing.
Child safety and Awareness campaign

On 27th September, two children drawn in one latrine septic tank after the cover collapsed. This regrettable incident highlights once again the need of increase the safety in the camps for children. Following decided actions to be defined and deployed in the coming weeks include technical assessment of all latrines to identify the need of reinforcement of structural elements, preventive actions (such as fences…) and a large awareness campaign on child security. A multi-sectorial group led by Protection and WASH has been set-up and will develop the plan. All clusters/sectors have been requested to support the wide dissemination of the key messages through all sectors.

Ceramic Water Filters distribution

Following the WASH Cluster strategy for all camps and villages, the CWF distribution are progressing all across Rakhine state. Every beneficiary receives a detailed training on the importance of the water quality and filter handling and maintenance. The initial results seem to show that the acceptance is very good, although more detailed results will be available during the coming weeks when the PDM results will be made available.

Indonesia: Asia Pacific Region: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (11 - 17 November 2014)

17 November 2014 - 5:10am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka

INDONESIA

Continued heavy rains caused more flooding and landslides across Indonesia. Flooding has killed one person and damaged 30 houses in West Sumatra Province and inundated 372 houses in Riau Province. In West Java Province, a landslide injured three people and flash floods from the Cisangli River inundated approximately 220 houses, affecting 1,200 people.

Flooding affected over 53,000 people in Aceh Barat Daya and Aceh Jaya Districts.

In early Nov, flooding also damaged over 10,330 houses in Aceh Selatan and Nagan Raya Districts. Local authorities are responding to these events, deploying teams and relief items. International assistance was not requested or expected.

1 person dead 54,200 people affected

A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia on 15 Nov at 09:31. The epicentre was located approximately 158 kms off Bitung District, North Maluku Province. The earthquake was felt in Ternate and Sitaro of North Maluku Province, and Manado of North Sulawesi Province. The Indonesia Agency for Meteorology (BMKG) confirmed a 0.9 meter tsunami wave hit Jailolo (20 kms from Ternate, North Maluku) at 09:43 Jakarta time and 0.01 metre tsunami in Tobelo at 10:24 Jakarta time. Latest reports from the National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB) indicate the earthquake caused light damage in North Sulawesi Province and there were no casualties.

SRI LANKA

Humanitarian agencies have conducted a desk review of secondary data and compiled a draft report on the landslide that occurred in Meeriyabadda Estate, Haldummulla division, Badulla district on 29 Oct. The secondary data was provided by the Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, and international humanitarian partners to ascertain the needs, response to date and remaining gaps. Initial findings indicate 37 people died and 22 remain missing. Over 4,460 people are displaced and seeking support from 28 welfare centres in Badulla district.

22 people missing 4,460 people displaced

MALAYSIA

The Malaysian Government will launch a three-year programme to plant one million trees in the Cameron Highlands and halt construction of new hotels or condominiums in the area after five people died and five were injured when flash floods struck on 5 Nov. Massive illegal clearing in the Cameron Highlands was blamed for the flash floods which resulted in the landslides and mud floods.

More than 203 residents from 47 families in Kampung Baru and Bertam Valley were evacuated in the incident, which caused widespread damage. The Environment Minister handed out a contribution of RM1,000 (US$ 300) to each of the 33 families hit by the disaster and establish a new housing scheme.

5 people dead

Myanmar: A Tipping Point for Rohingya Rights?

17 November 2014 - 1:46am
Source: Refugees International Country: Myanmar

Two years after a wave of violence hit the region, Myanmar’s Rakhine State has become a segregated zone. Two million ethnic Rakhine live apart from 1.2 million stateless Rohingya, who are trapped inside displacement camps or barred from leaving their villages. Ending this segregation and protecting the rights of the Rohingya are necessary components of Myanmar’s move toward democracy. However, the Rakhine leadership has rejected – both politically and with force – any reintegration of the two communities, and it is seeking to exclude the Rohingya from any role in the state’s development, distribution of resources, and political representation.

Recently, Myanmar’s central government developed a draft “Rakhine Action Plan” that would provide some Rohingya with the opportunity to apply for citizenship, but only if they identify as ethnically “Bengali.” Those who are found ineligible for citizenship, or who refuse to comply, would be rendered to internment camps. The plan as currently drafted is indefensible, and the international community must demand that it be revised to reflect the rights of Rohingya to self-identify, secure citizenship, and live without arbitrary restrictions on their movement, religion, education, and livelihoods. The plan must also support the positive development of all communities in Rakhine State.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS:

The government of Myanmar should:

  • Revise and make public for comment the draft “Rakhine Action Plan” to ensure consistency with human rights standards, including the rights to liberty, nationality, and freedom of movement; as well as the principle of non-discrimination;
  • Make transparent any requirements associated with successfully securing citizenship through the citizenship verification process, and ensure that applicants have the right to due process, including legal assistance and an independent review of any adverse decision before a judicial body;
  • Treat Rohingya who arrived in camps after June 2012 as internally displaced persons, register them in coordination with the UN Refugee Agency, and provide them with all necessary assistance;
  • Immediately address important assistance and protection gaps in the Sittwe camps, including irregular access to camps for healthcare personnel, the abuse of Rohingya by members of the military and police, rapidly deteriorating communal shelters, and the need for secondary education facilities and staff.

The international community should:

  • Insist that as a prerequisite to full normalization of relations, Myanmar must extend non-discriminatory protection to all people living in Rakhine State, provide citizenship to Rohingya born in or with longstanding ties to Myanmar, restore the rule of law, and prosecute perpetrators of violence consistent with due process;
  • Provide increased levels of humanitarian and development funding to Rakhine State focused on increasing access to food and clean water, eradicating poverty, and improving health and nutrition standards; and
  • Urge UN agencies and their implementing partners to improve camp management and ensure that all camp facilities are in conformity with protection-based physical planning; and that victims of crime, violence, and abuse have access to adequate health and psychosocial care, and other services.

Sarnata Reynolds and Jeff Crisp traveled to Myanmar in September 2014 and assessed the humanitarian response to displacement in Rakhine State.

Myanmar: As part of democratization, government puts special priority on raising education standard in belief that national education plays key role in nation building

16 November 2014 - 8:39pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw,16 Nov

The following is the message sent by President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar U Thein Sein on the occasion of 94th Anniversary National Day.

I would like to extend heartiest greetings and best wishes to all the citizens of Myanmar on the auspicious occasion of the 94th anniversary of National Day, which falls on 16 November.

This significant day depicts the nationalistic sentiment displayed in the history of education in Myanmar. It is also on this historic day that the very first national education law designed to improve the quality of education for the entire citizenry came into effect.

The government has entered the Third Wave of Reform in implementing its all-round national development measures on all fronts.

A national concern is the emergence of an education system that is capable of taking the country to a new level of prosperity and developing reliable human resources while cherishing and promoting the language, literature, culture and tradition of every ethnic group.

As part of democratization, the government puts special priority on raising the education standard in the belief that national education plays a key role in nation building. It is through education that people can be aware of the importance of political stability, tranquility, unity, economic development, better living standards, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Strenuous efforts are under way to design and up grade curricula at all levels that can meet national and international criteria, with the aim of bringing about youths who value a code of conduct, democratic practices and human rights. In addition, extensive measures are taken to make education compulsory and free for all school-age children.

Priority has been given to projects to reduce poverty and promote education standards from early childhood education to higher education including technical and occupational education. In doing so, emphasis is placed on the right to education for every citizen by implementing special and inclusive education programs.

Measures are being taken for the emergence of a free and active educational environment at universities and nurturing disciplined and patriotic youths capable of overcoming difficulties and challenges.

As the development of each region is essential for national development, it is important to utilize the strength and participation of local people and resources in the regional development tasks. It is necessary to explore natural resources in respective regions, to manage them for future use and to coordinate for the effective use of education resources at universities in combination with natural resources.

The entire national people are witnessing unprecedented development in the political, economic and social sectors and in the peace process since independence was regained in the new democratic nation that resulted from the cooperation of the entire national people. An evidence of achievements to be proud of in the international arena is the successful hosting of the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits and being able to lead the entire region for equitable development as the chair of ASEAN.

On this auspicious occasion, with all seriousness, I would like to urge all the national people, taking advantage of these achievements, to successfully overcome the difficulties and challenges along the democracy journey with the united strength of the entire national people and to march towards the goal of democracy with firm determination and active and united strength of the entire national people by upholding the objectives of the 94th Anniversary of the National Day such as:

(1) To uplift national prestige and integrity and to preserve the Union Spirit

(2) To uplift national education standards

(3) To preserve the independence and sovereignty of the nation

(4) To build a new, modern, developed nation.

Myanmar: Rohingya relatives says thousands missing in boats en route to Malaysia

15 November 2014 - 12:46pm
Source: Reuters - AlertNet Country: Myanmar

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Thousands of Rohingya boat people who have left Myanmar in the past month have yet to reach their destinations, say relatives and an advocacy group for the persecuted minority, raising fears their boats have been prevented from reaching shore.

Read the full article on Reuters-AlertNet

Myanmar: World Food Programme Myanmar November 2014 Operational Report

14 November 2014 - 10:03pm
Source: World Food Programme Country: Myanmar

IDP ration cuts averted for November and December

In October, WFP was facing a severe immediate funding shortfall, which would have resulted in 20 percent rice ration cuts for 200,000 internally displaced persons in Kachin, northern Shan and Rakhine. WFP advised funding partners about the impending food pipeline break but insufficient funding came through. Just in time, WFP managed to deploy advance financing against an indicative forecast from one funding partner and succeeded in temporarily averting the rice ration cuts for IDPs for November and December. Nevertheless, if urgent funding is not received, it will result in 20 percent rice ration cut for IDPs as of January 2015.

Myanmar: Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) South East Asia and the Pacific (ECHO/-XA/BUD/2015/91000) Last update: 20/10/2014 Version 1

14 November 2014 - 9:39am
Source: European Commission Humanitarian Aid department Country: Cambodia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Vanuatu, Viet Nam

The activities proposed hereafter are still subject to the adoption of the financing decision ECHO/WWD/BUD/2015/01000

AMOUNT: EUR 18 000 000

1. CONTEXT

This HIP covers the response to natural and man-made disasters as well as disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and resilience activities in South East Asia and the Pacific.

For the response to natural and man-made disasters, this HIP focuses largely on Myanmar/Burma and Thailand with the potential for interventions in response to new disasters also in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. These countries have been included because of their high exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters . As regards disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and resilience, the focus will be on specific actions in Vanuatu as well as support to regional initiatives in the Pacific and South East Asia, complementing the ongoing DIPECHO HIP for South East Asia 2014-2015.

Man-made disasters

Man-made disasters with humanitarian consequences are found in Myanmar/Burma and to a lesser extent in the Philippines (Mindanao).

Myanmar/Burma's population is estimated at circa 53 million people, of which 40% are ethnic minorities. The country ranks 150 of 187 in the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index . ECHO's Integrated Analysis Framework 2014-2015 identified extreme humanitarian needs. Since the 2011 elections, the Government has made progress particularly in the area of democratization and peace building. However, humanitarian needs have increased with the most urgent stemming from displacement following inter-communal violence in Rakhine State since June 2012 and renewed fighting in Kachin and northern Shan States since 2011. In Rakhine, Kachin and Northern Shan States a total of 255 000 IDPs live in camps or with host families .

The spill-over of inter-communal violence to other parts of the country in 2013 and 2014 is another destabilisation factor, while maritime migration movements from Rakhine State to other countries in the region are an additional concern. UNHCR estimates that 86 000 people, mostly Rohingya, have left since communal violence erupted in June 2012. Some of them are now housed in detention centres in Thailand and receive support from ECHO5 . In Bangladesh, there are at least 250 000 Rohingya. Only 24 000 of them are recognised refugees and live in official camps. The vast majority of Rohingya live in makeshift camps or within local communities.

The vulnerability of the population affected by the crises in Rakhine and Kachin States is assessed to be very high. Since 2004, Myanmar/Burma has consistently been on the ECHO Forgotten CrisesAssessment Index.

Following decades of civil war on the Eastern border, Thailand still hosts 119 000 Myanmar/Burma refugees/displaced persons in nine camps. Further to government ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups on the Eastern border (and pending the outcome of negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire), needs in the Southeast are more development-oriented than humanitarian. Durable solutions are needed after 30 years of the existence of camps.

Organised return on a voluntary basis, in line with international principles, is not yet on the horizon but this might change following a registration exercise in the camps in the second semester 2014. Appropriate conditions have yet to be created in Myanmar/Burma to receive a possible influx of returnees.

In the Philippines, fighting between the army and insurgent groups in Mindanao has fluctuated in terms of intensity since independence. The peace process initiated by President Aquino is perceived as a successful landmark. Although there are positive signs that it may result in sustained peace in Mindanao, the process has shortcomings. For example, splinter groups have emerged from the second major insurgent group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Eruption of violence, with potential humanitarian impact remains a possibility (as witnessed in September 2013 in Zamboanga city).

Bangladesh: Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) Bangladesh (ECHO/BGD/BUD/2014/91000) Last update: 22/10/2014 Version 2

14 November 2014 - 2:07am
Source: European Commission Humanitarian Aid department Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

AMOUNT: EUR 13 500 000

0 . MAJOR CHANGES SINCE PREVIOUS VERSION OF THE HIP

As a result of devastating floods caused by monsoon rains in August 2014, over 600 000 very vulnerable people had their homes destroyed and lost all their crops in the North- West of the country. The most vulnerable have already reduced their food intake and cut meals and this state of affairs will only worsen, as the next harvest will only take place in March/April 2015. Their very survival is threatened, with winter coming. Only half of the people in need have received any humanitarian assistance so far (including EUR 1.6 million from the 2014 HIP) and there are still huge unmet needs in terms of food/livelihood recovery, WASH and shelter. It is therefore appropriate to increase the allocation under the present HIP by EUR 1 000 000.

Myanmar: In Remote Karenni State, a Place of Diversity and Learning

13 November 2014 - 10:32pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

DEMOSO TOWNSHIP, Karenni State — A peak inside the Dawbozee Monastery compound at lunchtime reveals a cheerful scene, as novices and lay children play together under the watchful gaze of a handful of Buddhist nuns. But it’s not all fun and games here: There’s also learning to be done.

There are no chairs or tables at the school in Dawbozee village, consigning education materials and pupils alike to the cement floor when lessons are in progress.

The monastic school offers free education to children from a cornucopia of minority groups in the region, from Padaung and Kayan to Kayar, Kayaw, Pa-O and Shan. Many children are brought here from remote areas of Karenni State where families are unable to afford to pay for their education. There are 188 students that call the school home, taking meals and sleeping in the compound after class is out.

The school teaches students from first grade to seventh grade. Those who graduate from the seventh grade must enroll in a government school if they wish to continue their studies.

There are six monastic schools in Karenni State, according to Badhanta Thondhara, who is abbot at the Dawbozee Monastery. His school has eight schoolteachers, and Badhanta Thondhara hopes next year the school will be the first in Karenni State to offer high school instruction.

“Our school will be the first to become a high school next year,” says Badhanta Thondhara, who is also the school’s founder.

He started offering monastic education in 1996, at the time teaching some 60 students brought in from across the diverse state with the intention of offering them a reliable study routine.

“By studying here, children can have regular times for instruction. In local areas, it is very difficult to find schoolteachers. Children do not study at home after coming back from their schools. By living here, they have full time to study at night, while schoolteachers teach them during the daytime,” says Badhanta Thondhara.

“During free time, we teach them how to work with volunteer jobs. For example, students in the third grade, they do not know how to wash their clothes. So, we let fifth grade students wash clothes for the younger children. This is teaching them how to serve in the community. And also we teach them how to pay respect to each other. If we teach them well, they will understand how to serve the country when they become adults,” he says.

Badhanta Thondhara, 68, has spent more than 20 years in the monkhood, after retiring from the Burma Army. He is ethnic Bamar, but says that his school does not accept children who are Bamar because the area is populated by a variety of ethnic minorities.

“We found most of our Burmese kids did not understand the customs of ethnic people. When they do not know how to deal with customs here, they are not happy at the school,” Badhanta Thondhara says.

Many students have to forego study beyond the seventh grade, according to the abbot, as their parents want their children to work. It is for this reason that the abbot is trying to start high school instruction next year.

“For local children, when they become older, their parents want their children to work and drop out of school. It happens a lot locally,” he says.

The monastery has been offering schooling for nearly two decades. The abbot acknowledges that there have been many difficulties over the years, such as how to provide food, schoolteachers and education materials for the children, though he says the first three years were the hardest. Donations have since increased, and with it, the quality of the children’s education and living conditions has risen.

There’s a chance things could further improve with financial assistance from the government, which last year said it would put 3 billion kyats (US$3 million) toward monastic education in Burma. But with more than 260,000 students enrolled in monastic schools across the country, those funds may not go a long way toward bolstering a system that relies almost entirely on donations.

“Our intention is to breed more educated people,” says the abbot in Dawbozee. “If one student becomes well-educated among a hundred, I am happy enough.”

World: Asia-Pacific countries discuss ways to invest in and improve agricultural and rural statistics for food security through a joint effort

13 November 2014 - 2:48pm
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization Country: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Samoa, Sri Lanka, World

Bangkok, Thailand, 13 Nov 2014 -- A global initiative to improve the way agricultural statistics are compiled at country level has taken another step forward in Asia and the Pacific, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced today.

Some countries in the region employ unscientific methods of gathering agricultural statistics – resulting in a variety of inaccurate estimates from rice production and stocks to the number of livestock. In response, FAO has convened a regional consultation with its partners on agricultural and rural statistical best practices and a discussion on areas for improvement. The consultation has also attracted the participation of major donor countries and institutions.

“Our objective is to enable countries to develop sustainable statistical systems that can produce accurate and reliable agricultural and rural data for appropriate policy decision-making,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative during welcome remarks.

“In the past, we often saw that statistics were managed in different ways and often by different departments within government ministries and between ministries, so we need to find ways to bring them together in a way that helps analyse the overall situation of food security and nutritional status,” Konuma said.

“We need to help countries formulate and implement policies to revitalize their rural areas and one of the ways to do that is to help countries enhance their data collection methods,” said Dalisay Maligalig, Principal Statistician from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Improving the way statistics are compiled requires “statistical literacy that must be instilled in the education system,” said Margarita Guerrero, Director of the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP). “A highly skilled workforce in agricultural and rural statistics is needed to help address the challenge,” she added.

Work on improving agricultural and rural statistics began in 2012, with the endorsement of a regional action plan to support the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics. A regional steering committee was formed the following year which in turn endorsed eight countries for implementation of Global Strategy activities in the region with the intention of covering twenty countries by the end of the 2017.

These eight countries comprise: Bhutan, Fiji, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Samoa, and Sri Lanka. In addition, work in Bangladesh has been done under a related project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“A necessary condition for the strategy to expand and succeed is more support from our donor community and resource partners,” said Konuma. Some governments may also need external support to build infrastructure for carrying out statistical activities or for building their human resource capabilities in identified areas, Konuma added.

The Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics was initiated by the UN Statistical Commission and is supported in the Asia-Pacific region by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); as well as national statistics offices, agriculture ministries, and other government and private institutions producing and using agricultural statistics in the region.

Contact
Allan Dow, Communication Officer

Myanmar: Off-the-Cuff: Secretary-General’s Remarks at Press Conference, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, 12 November 2014

13 November 2014 - 12:18pm
Source: UN Secretary-General Country: Myanmar

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be back in Myanmar to co-chair the Sixth ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-UN Summit and to attend the Ninth East Asia Summit. I congratulate the Government of the Union of Myanmar for successfully hosting these meetings. I thank ASEAN’s leaders for their commitment to cooperation with the United Nations.

The leaders of ASEAN and East Asia have gathered in Nay Pyi Taw at a time of test for the international community. The world faces multiple crises. The region faces major challenges. I would like to highlight three issues of particular importance for Asia and, indeed, all humankind.

First, I am concerned that historical tensions and competing territorial claims in the region could hold the region back. I am encouraged by recent steps to enhance dialogue, and hope that this will prevent any needless escalation. Leaders have a responsibility to resolve their disputes peacefully, through dialogue. An Asia that can overcome legacy issues and look to a shared future will be even better placed to advance prosperity for all.

Second, here in Myanmar, the process of democratization is at a defining moment. An inclusive and transparent election next year will be crucial for the country’s future. Earlier today I had meetings with senior officials from the Myanmar Government, including Vice President U Sai Mauk Kham. Tomorrow morning, I will have a meeting with President Thein Sein. In my meeting this morning, I commended the Government’s efforts to implement an ambitious reform agenda. I also expressed my concern about the Rohingya population, who face discrimination and violence. I encouraged the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions. At a time of rising extremism and intolerance in many countries, progress on this front in Myanmar would keep that country’s transition on track and send a positive message to the world.

Third, the world needs to do even more to address the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The rate of new cases is showing encouraging signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The international strategy is working. At the same time, people are dying every day. I thank the many countries, including some of those here, that are contributing to the response. But I also encourage them to fill the huge gaps in funding, equipment and medical personnel. We are on the right track. But we must speed up efforts to get the crisis under control and bring it to an end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The leaders of ASEAN and their partners represent more than half the world’s population. I urge them to use this opportunity to take real steps that will enable people to enjoy stability, prosperity, democracy and human rights.

But before taking your questions, I want to commend President Xi Jinping of China and President Barack Obama of the United States for their leadership on climate change that they demonstrated today in the joint announcement agreed to in Beijing.

The decision on their post-2020 action on climate change, notably the commitment to increase their level of commitment on reducing CO2 emissions, is an important contribution to the new climate agreement to be reached in Paris next year.

I urge all countries, especially all major economies, to follow China and the United States' lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but no later than the first quarter of 2015.

I thank you for your attention.

Q: Recently, the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the international community has criticised Myanmar for the reform process led by President U Thein Sein as flawed. Do you agree with them or not? What is your opinion? And the second question is: On the Bengali or so-called Rohingya issue, our Myanmar people feel that the international community, including the United Nations, has never considered our people [inaudible]. What is your opinion?

SG: Let me go back to your second question, first of all. The Myanmar authorities are carrying out a verification exercise in Rakhine to process the granting of citizenship to people in Rakhine. While the process has been carried out in accordance with national law, it should also be in line with international standards and guidelines. The affected population, referred to as Bengalis by the Government of Myanmar but known as Rohingya in the United Nations and much of the international community – the United Nations uses that word based on the rights of minorities. I also urge the authorities to avoid measures that could entrench the current segregation between communities. It may unnecessarily create some additional negative emotions between the communities. Efforts must be made to foster interfaith dialogue and harmony to bring the communities closer together. I am not aware of what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has criticized about this. I am going to have a meeting with her. I hope I will have an opportunity of getting more information on that.

Q: I am from the Myanmar News Agency. A few months ago, INGOs have resumed operations while MSF is [inaudible] in Rakhine State, and also the UN is following suit. Rakhine State Government is in the process of immunization as was planned now, so let me know your final view on whether progress is making or not in Rakhine State.

SG: It’s a very important and serious issue. I am urging that the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine should be respected. As this process of granting citizenship is now going on, I know that the Government must have [its] own criteria to determine whether one is eligible for citizenship. That is why then, whoever is eligible to be given citizenship, I think they should be given citizenship equal to Myanmar people, without any discrimination. Then, for those people who may not meet the criteria, it is important that their human rights and human dignity must be fully protected. That is the message which I have conveyed to Myanmar Government authorities. And that is what I will emphasize again when I meet President Thein Sein tomorrow morning. And, at the same time, there is a serious humanitarian issue: IDPs, internally displaced people. The United Nations is mobilizing all the necessary resources to help them, to deliver humanitarian assistance. At the same time, I have been asking to have easy access to Rakhine State so that the United Nations agencies will be able to freely move around. Thank you.

Q: [inaudible question on freedom of expression]

SG: Let me tell you that Myanmar is now going through a very important transition, a transformation. This transformation and transition towards a full democracy is to be recognised and appreciated. I know that there are still more challenges to overcome, but generally speaking I think that Myanmar is making progress in strengthening its democratic institutions and achieving rapid economic development and also national reconciliation. In the course of that, when they have a political reform process, I have been asking the leaders to fully guarantee the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, is the basic principle of human rights enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The international community must continue to support the Government and people of Myanmar as they move toward a truly universal reform process where everybody’s human rights, including the freedom of expression, will be fully guaranteed. This is what, I believe, the international community continues to encourage the Myanmar Government. Thank you very much.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on the previous question. The United Nations and the international community accept “Rohingya”. Here in Myanmar, most of us know as “Bengali”. So their name is one of the problems of the conflict. And some politicians suggest to have a DNA test, whether Rohingya or Bengali, which is scientific. What’s your opinion on this?

SG: I think I have answered your question already. I know that the Government is addressing them as “Bengalis” and people in Rakhine, they call themselves “Rohingya”. The United Nations has been using “Rohingya”, based on the continuing principle to recognize the rights of minority people. I hope that this should not create any additional problems. I don’t think this is a necessary one. And I am urging the Myanmar Government to make accelerated process to grant citizenship to all those who are eligible, according to their national laws.

Q: The Commander of NATO spoke to reporters in Sofia and expressed concerns about the border between Eastern Ukraine and Russia being totally open now. And there are indications in Kiev that troops in Ukraine are preparing for combat. What’s the latest information you have on the situation and do you think there needs to be more intervention from the international community?

SG: The situation in Ukraine has been a source of continuous concern of the international community. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have been urging the parties to resume all the pending issues through dialogue, rather than military use or other violent means. And I believe, and I’m urging again, that all these issues should be resolved in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum. This was agreed between the parties. This should be the guideline by which all the pending issues should be resolved.

Myanmar: A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone

13 November 2014 - 1:46am
Source: Physicians for Human Rights Country: Myanmar

Forced Displacement Leaves Burmese Families Living in Substandard Conditions, with Higher Rates of Hunger and Sickness

New Report Shows Burmese Government Violated International Guidelines

CONTACTS:

Mekong Watch: Minari Tsuchikawa (Japanese and English); +81 90 8487 3161;
daga.ken.karayan2002@gmail.com
Thilawa Social Development Group
(TSDG) (Burmese) U Mya Hlaing; +95 (9420258370), Aye Khaing Win; +95 (9420278843)

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS
Deputy Director of Communications, New York
vjaksiclowe@phrusa.org
Tel: 917-679-0110

The Burmese government violated international standards when forcibly displacing families from the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by threatening many residents with court appearances and imprisonment, giving them inadequate compensation for land lost, and failing to provide training or other means of income to those who lost their jobs, according to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

"A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone" shows that displacement also affected families’ food security and health conditions, as families reported higher levels of hunger, child malnutrition, and sickness, as well as reduced access to medical treatment.

"The Thilawa project exemplifies how devastating forced displacement can be on local communities when governments completely disregard human rights laws for the sake of a business development," said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. "The Burmese and Japanese governments should work to improve the living conditions for those displaced by this misguided venture, and ensure that this disaster is not repeated when hundreds of other families are relocated for future development projects."

The Thilawa SEZ is located near the Thilawa port, located some 15 miles south of Rangoon, Burma’s largest city. It comprises 2,400 hectares of farmland that will be developed into factory sites. The Japanese government and three Japanese companies partnered with the Burmese government and a group of Burmese businesses to develop the site. The project is expected to yield more than $53 million in profits by 2018.

In addition to interviewing 22 key informants, PHR surveyed 29 of the 68 households displaced during phase one of the project, which began in 2013. When phase two begins, an additional 846 households, comprising 3,869 people, will be displaced. Key findings from PHR’s report include:

The displacement process did not follow international guidelines, most notably because the Burmese government threatened residents with imprisonment if they did not move.

The Burmese government did not provide opportunities for residents to seek legal or technical advice, nor to challenge their displacement in court.

Some humanitarian conditions at the relocation site, such as those related to water sources and latrines, are below international standards for refugee situations.

The average household income for the displaced dropped by 78 percent after relocation, with nearly 90 percent of households reporting not having enough money to meet their needs.

Farmers who lost their land were not provided with other means to earn a living; and people who worked in nearby industries had to leave their jobs because their new commute was prohibitively expensive.

Loss of livelihoods also affected families’ food security and health, with eight households reporting higher levels of household hunger; 13.6 percent of children suffering from mild malnutrition; and the number of households reporting being unable to get treatment for sickness doubling, from 7 to 16. PHR has issued a number of recommendations to the Burmese, Japanese, and U.S. governments, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). These include immediately implementing transparent procedures for any evictions; improving humanitarian conditions at the relocation site; and ensuring that the U.S. government raises the issue of forced displacement in bilateral communications with the Burmese government.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Myanmar: Colorful Fields in Shan State Signal Another Bumper Opium Crop

12 November 2014 - 11:23pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

PEKHON TOWNSHIP, Shan State — In west-Padaung, a hilly region located on the border of Shan and Karenni states, farmers are hard at work in their fields. It’s harvest season and the ethnic Kayan tribes here are busy tending to their crop: Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy.

In the valleys between the rugged, green hills, poppy fields bloom with bright red, pink and white flowers. The isolated region has poor soils and cold nights that suit the hardy herb but few other cash crops, leaving the impoverished farmers with little choice when it comes to sustaining a livelihood.

“We could not grow any other plants here to make a living, except poppy. If they [the government] ban it, we will have no other jobs,” said a 50-year-old villager, before asking a reporter if such a ban is being planned.

Farmers said poppy has been cultivated in the region, which straddles southern Shan State and northern Karenni State, for more than a decade. A Loikaw-based representative of the National League for Democracy (NLD) estimated that some 20,000 acres are under poppy cultivation here.

According to Aung Than, an ethnic Kayan activist from the Karenni State capital Loikaw, the opium harvested from poppy has offered poor villagers an opportunity to earn a decent living in their remote region.

“These people had no job in the past. They had to find jobs in Loikaw or other towns, which are very far away,” he said. “They had many difficulties, but after they became aware of the fact that their land could grow poppy they became owners of poppy farms. Now, other workers have to come and work for them.”

He pointed at the homes of the roughly 400 families in Be Kin village, named after a sub-tribe of the Kayan minority that live here, and said that before all houses were made from bamboo and thatch. “Now, many people have homes made of bricks and iron roofs,” said the activist.

He added, though, “Everyone wanted to get rich in a short time, and they came to grow poppy, but they did not get rich—only the opium traders become rich.”

The NLD representative said farmers know their livelihoods are considered illegal and fuel an international criminal trade, but they have no other options to survive. “Few use it themselves; they just grow it as a business. Perhaps 2 percent smoke opium themselves,” he added.

Burma is the second-largest opium producer after Afghanistan and accounted for about 18 percent of global trade in the illicit narcotic last year, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.

Opium production in Shan, Karenni and Kachin states reached 58,000 hectares in 2013, according to UN, rising for a sixth consecutive year since 2006, when production had sharply dropped from record 1990s levels as a result of a crackdown by authorities and ethnic armed groups.

In June, the Home Affairs Ministry told Parliament that its drug-elimination efforts, started in 1999, had failed and that a deadline to make Burma “drugs-free” would be extended with another 10 years.

For many years, northern Burma has been the hub for opium and methamphetamine production in Asia and the trade is directly tied to the country’s decades-old ethnic conflict.

Tens of thousands of poor ethnic farmers grow the opium. Authorities and parties involved in the ethnic conflict—rebel groups, the Burma Army and pro-government militias—tax the drug trade to fund the war, while Chinese criminal syndicates and some militias and rebel groups are directly involved in drug production and trade, researchers have said.

‘Police Do Not Come Here’

Farmers said they plant their crop in late August and it takes about three months before the bulbous fruit and flowers are ready to produce white, raw opium. Farmers cut the bulbs in the early morning and collect resin the next day when the opium has dried and become a sticky brown paste. The bulbs produce opium for about two weeks, while a flowering plant lasts about one week.

Few of the Kayan farmers speak Burmese and some of the women brought their children to the fields, where the farmers live in small huts during the growing season. Many of the farmers travel on motorbike, while some own a car. Day laborers travel from other areas to west-Padaung to work the fields during the season, earning about US$5 per day.

Many poppy farmers hid in their homes when approached by reporters, but some were friendly and welcoming. Those interviewed said they had little to fear from police and authorities administering the region in Phekon Township, as long as they pay an opium tax to local officials.

“Of course, I am afraid of police, but police do not come here because we pay them taxes. I’ve never seen police come here in my whole life,” said a 68-year-old Kayan woman, who was collecting raw opium from her 1.5-acre field. The woman, who declined to be named, said she was able to harvest around 3 viss of raw opium (about 4.9 kilo) per year from her farm.

Farmers said they were paid about $700 per viss of opium last year, but they added that prices fluctuated and feared getting lower prices this year. When asked who bought the opium harvest, farmers said “Chinese” traders came to their villages. It is unclear if they meant Chinese nationals, or referred to ethnic Chinese communities in northern Shan State, some of which are known to have been involved in the illicit trade.

Ba Khaing, 50, said he had cultivated a 10-acre area of poppy for more than a decade, he explained that authorities never bothered him but collected about $5 in tax from each of the approximately 100 poppy farmers in Be Kin village every week.

He said the amount of poppy planted by villagers varied every year depending on the availability of labor and expected opium prices. “It is depends on the price. If we can get higher prices, we will grow more. A lot of people are waiting to see price conditions first,” he said.

Names in this story were changed at the request of interviewees to protect their identity.

Bangladesh: Bangladesh President urges for permanent solution to Rohingya issue

12 November 2014 - 8:16pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Prior to the APEC CEO Summit, Beijing of China, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid urged Burma President Thein Sein to work together to find out effective mechanisms for a permanent solution to the long-pending Rohingya issue at Diaoyutai State Guest House on November 9, according to president’s press secretary briefed reporters after the meeting.

"The continued influx of Myanmar refugees to Bangladesh and drug trafficking at the border are affecting law and order as well as socio-economic problems in Bangladesh's bordering districts of Cox's Bazar and Banbarban. Both countries should work together to find out fruitful mechanisms for resolving the problem," the President Hamid said this at a bilateral meeting with Burma President Thein Sein held at Diaoyutai State Guest House.

Hamid's press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters after the meeting that the Burmese side took note of it for further necessary action.

The Burmese president was apprised of the serious problem being faced by Bangladesh in frontier areas due to huge influx of Burmese citizens since 1991-92. At the meeting, the Burmese government was requested for early repatriation of their citizens inside Bangladesh by expediting the process of verification.

During the meet, Thein Sein said the problems between the two countries could be resolved in a peaceful manner.

Bangladesh has more than 200,000 Rohingyas besides the 30,000 registered at Kutupalang and Naya Parha refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, according to the UNHCR and Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Bangladesh.

The government assumes a further 500,000 Rohingyas are living in the country.

“The Myanmar president has been briefed on these two issues Bangladesh has been facing. Myanmar has been urged to take back its citizens as soon as possible,” said press secretary Ihsanul Karim.

Rohingya Muslims facing persecution at home have been crossing over to Bangladesh for two decades now. Burma has not responded to Dhaka’s calls to take them back.

But, in Burmese president office website sated the infiltration of people who are assumed to be from Myanmar into Bangladesh, President U Thein Sein reaffirmed Myanmar’s stance that they must return on their own volition and come under a four-point scrutiny as agreed by both countries.