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Myanmar: Breaking the silence on Myanmar’s Rohingya

6 June 2016 - 2:40am
Source: International Peace Institute Country: Myanmar

By Sara E. Davies & Jacqui True

A recent diplomatic row over whether new United States Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel may call the self-identified Rohingya ethnic minority group by that name or use the government preferred “Bengali” shows that ethnic and religious tensions remain high in the Southeast Asian nation.

The situation today for the Rohingya remains largely the same as it did prior to Myanmar’s peaceful political transition last year, which included moving from a military junta-dominated parliament to one with a National League for Democracy majority, the appointment of a new president, and continued efforts to reach a peace agreement between the country’s many armed groups.

As well as being denied the right to self-identify, the Rohingya are still not recognized as citizens of Myanmar, and the 125,000 to 140,000 in Rakhine are denied the right to leave the state, while facing massive impositions on their lives. There is no sign that those still interned in displacement camps near the Rakhine capital Sittwe since June 2012 will be released. Women bear a particularly high brunt from the worrying levels of malnutrition and long-term health implications among their children, high rates of gender-based violence, and society-wide intimidation.

A fire within Rakhine’s Baw Du Pha 2 camp, which led to 2,000 losing their homes at the start of May, was the latest tragedy to befall this displaced population. In October last year, an eight-year-old girl who was already severely malnourished died from injuries allegedly resulting from a rape by a military officer. The daily persecution continues to drive many to attempt leaving Myanmar by sea, many of who drown, as with the 21 who died at sealast month, or face brutality at the hands of those who assist in their flight, as with those found dead in Malaysia last year.

The pattern of pervasive discrimination is one we personally comprehended when speaking to those responsible for delivering the limited humanitarian assistance permitted for the internally displaced population in Rakhine. All those who spoke to us insisted on anonymity, fearing that their access to the camps would be denied if their identities were revealed. Many spoke of fearing to even submit reports to their organizations, in case the governments of Rakhine or Myanmar expelled them.

While restricted in their ability to report on it, the humanitarian workers spoke of the severe forms of violence facing women and children and the limited rights for Rohingya both inside and outside the camps. They reported having witnessed few other situations approaching those in Sittwe, and many of these people had held postings in trouble spots such as Darfur, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Afghanistan.

While the case of the Rohingya population may be the most notable, it is also among many examples of displacement and limited humanitarian access in Myanmar. Much more is at stake for ethnic minorities in the country’s ongoing political transition. The National Ceasefire Agreement, which is yet to attract the signature of all 15 ethnic armed groups concerned, contains provisions on the relocation of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees. These relocations are proposed for displaced populations that have endured persistent human rights violations and denial of access to humanitarian assistance. They will be high-risk movements in environments where there may be significant resource competition. A recurrence of the violence that followed displacements in 2012 is feared, and compensation offered by the government is seen as insufficient to overcome persistent deprivation of rights such as land ownership.

The culture of silence around the treatment of Rohingya and other ethnic groups in Myanmar poses some important questions. First, whose responsibility is it to report human rights violations in the country’s complex political situation? And do United Nations, international humanitarian, and civil society reports protect populations or further erode the protection they have, however minimal? While most humanitarian agencies must operate in conditions where they are expected to be impartial and neutral, this does not apply to the UN or embassies.

There are also concerns over the point at which securing humanitarian accessrequires complicity with denying rights and identity for vulnerable and displaced populations. Silence may be justified as a way to prevent further violence, but it also enables violations to continue with impunity.

Civil society groups operating in Myanmar are already concerned about the state’s failure to recognize and prosecute acts of violence committed by the country’s _Tatmadaw _armed forces. A climate of impunity, coupled with aggressive pro-Myanmar Buddhist nationalist sentiment and resource rivalry generate risks that cannot be overstated. In a political environment where official reporting about violence or discrimination against minority populations is already restricted, and where humanitarian workers are prone to self-censorship to protect these groups, the risk of violence is ever present. The international community must therefore closely watch Myanmar during this important and ongoing regime transition.

Sara E. Davies is Associate Professor in the Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University. Jacqui True is Professor of Politics & International Relations at Monash University.

World: REACH 2015 Activity Report

4 June 2016 - 8:18am
Source: REACH Initiative Country: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Croatia, Greece, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Philippines, Serbia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, Vanuatu, World

Foreword

In recent years, humanitarian actors have come under growing strain to provide an adequate response to populations affected by crisis. On the one hand, the frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters has increased, while conflict-related crises are becoming more protracted and characterised by shrinking humanitarian space and access. On the other, the rise in humanitarian need has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in available resources, putting additional pressure on humanitarian actors. In this context, it is paramount for humanitarian action to be effective in its targeting and delivery mechanisms, requiring above all a capacity to develop a thorough and timely common understanding of crisis-affected populations. Despite a number of efforts made in this direction in the framework of the humanitarian reform and the transformative agenda, the timely availability of quality evidence to inform joint humanitarian planning and action remains a challenge.

REACH was created in 2010 as an independent initiative of IMPACT, ACTED and UNOSAT, with the aim of enhancing the availability of timely and quality information on crisis-affected populations, and to promote the effective use of evidence by humanitarian actors. In its first phase of development, between 2010 and 2014, REACH progressively acquired credibility through the design of innovative technical tools and the successful implementation of a number of assessments that enabled evidence-based planning and response by humanitarian actors, first in Kyrgyzstan, then in Libya, and by 2015 in 18 countries. This gradual growth was based on partnerships established primarily at country level with a variety of humanitarian stakeholders, and through a first global partnership with the Shelter Cluster.

By 2015, REACH has grown to become a leading international humanitarian assessment and information management initiative, repeatedly contributing to addressing humanitarian information gaps and to promoting evidence-based, and thereby more effective, humanitarian responses. In the course of 2015 REACH was able to consolidate the tools and products built over the years, while in parallel strengthening a number of flagship programs, notably on displacement and assessing hard-to-reach areas, and reinforcing and expanding its global and county level partnerships.

Going forward, we believe that REACH can play a catalytic role in promoting a systematic application of evidence-based planning by humanitarian actors, by further developing its actions, its global and country level partnerships and its advocacy at the policy level. In the context of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, REACH intends to contribute to the evolution of a humanitarian architecture which not only is aware of the importance of evidence, but also has the capacity to effectively collect and use it in a systematic, predictable and shared manner.

Through this yearly report, we are happy to share some of REACH’s achievements and lessons learnt for 2015. We would also like to warmly thank all our staff members and our partners for their engagement and support over the past years. We look forward to your continued collaboration with REACH.

Myanmar: Solar pumps bring safe water to families in Myanmar

3 June 2016 - 10:26pm
Source: UN Children's Fund Country: Myanmar

By Emily Bamford

In a Myanmar community affected by drought, easy access to safe water is hard to come by. With support from UNICEF and the Government, the village purchased a solar powered water pump and now all households get water pumped straight to their homes.

MAGWAY REGION, Myanmar, 3 June 2016 – Mon Taw village is a community located in Pauk Township, north-western Myanmar. Most regions of the country receive large amounts of rainfall each year, but Magway regularly experiences droughts, which are being exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

As a result, safe water is often only available 100 metres below the surface of the ground, making it very difficult to access.

“We used to rely on a hand pump which didn’t work properly in the summer because the water level would drop so low,” says Daw Khin, 60, who is both a headmistress at the local school and the Manager of the Village Water and Sanitation Committee. “It meant we’d have to travel really far to collect water. It was a real burden for us.”

Solar-powered water

In 2014, to help make safe water more accessible, UNICEF collaborated with the State Government to help the community secure a solar-powered water pump system. The village came together to contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the purchase and construction of the system.

The innovative solar pump system uses light energy to pull safe water up from deep below the earth’s surface. The water then flows into a large storage tank which stores enough water to ensure sufficient provision throughout the day. Gravity allows water to flow freely through a pipe system, directly to households.

Compared to hand-pumps or diesel powered pumps, solar pumps rarely break down. But just in case, the Village Water and Sanitation Committee collects a small fee from each household once per month, based on their water consumption (an average of US$1 per month per household). 

This means that the community is now completely self-reliant in terms of water supply. And because of the initial investment made by the community, they feel a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for the system. The piped connection (directly to the household) has also had a major impact in terms of convenience.

“We don’t mind paying for our water now as it’s so much more convenient than before,” says Daw Khin. “One dollar a month is affordable for everyone in the community, and because the pump hasn’t broken down yet – we have more than US$1,000 available in our reserve fund. We’re hoping to use some of the balance for health and education projects.”

Reaching more communities

One of the households benefiting from the improved water supply is the Khim family. “It’s so great now that we have water flowing directly to our home,” says Umar Khim and Daw Mya San. “It has made our day-to-day lives so much easier, giving us time to focus more on family and other things that make us happy!”

In 2015-2016, UNICEF Myanmar is supporting the installation of 15 new systems across the country which aim to reach around 20,000 people. This is helping to contribute towards the Government’s strategy to reach 70 per cent of the population with piped water by 2030 (only 8 per cent of the population in Myanmar currently have piped water access).