Myanmar: Leaders need to step up publicly and defuse the tension, urges John Ging

28 March, 2013
November 2012: As dusk falls on Thea Chaung camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, Rakhine State, Sokina Khatu prepares a meal for her four children outside their temporary home. Credit: UNOCHA/ Nicole Lawrence
November 2012: As dusk falls on Thea Chaung camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, Rakhine State, Sokina Khatu prepares a meal for her four children outside their temporary home. Credit: UNOCHA/ Nicole Lawrence

Operations Director John Ging expressed alarm today over continued inter-communal tensions in Myanmar, calling the security situation in Rakhine State “very tense and difficult.” 

“There is serious intimidation of aid workers,” said Mr. Ging briefing the press after a four-day mission to Myanmar and the Philippines. “We are incredibly concerned about the fact that so many people are in need and that the aid effort is not what it is supposed to be.”
 
More than 160 people had died and some 127,000 people remain displaced in Rakhine State as a result of inter-communal violence that broke out in June and October 2012. The displaced communities, mostly Rohingya Muslims, have been living in camps on the outskirts of their villages or towns for months. Humanitarian organizations are now concerned that about 24,000 of them, who live in camps located in paddy fields, will face the prospect of serious flooding when the monsoon season starts in May. 
 
“Tens of thousands of people displaced by violence in Rakhine State are now in imminent danger of yet another tragedy when the monsoon rains hit,” said the Operations Director. “We must act immediately to prevent a predictable tragedy. Many of the camps where the IDPs are currently located are on low-lying ground which floods every year.”
 
More recently, increased violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar’s Mandalay State had led to about 40 deaths and displaced 12,000 people. Humanitarian organizations are working with the Government and community-based organizations to provide emergency aid including food, water and shelter. 
 
During his meetings with Government officials, Mr. Ging emphasized the need to redouble efforts to promote peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups. He also called on the authorities to resume coordination with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has offered to help all those affected by the violence.
 
“The offer of the OIC to provide assistance to both communities without distinction positions them to be an important part of the solution,” Mr Ging said, recalling commitments he received from the OIC leadership in a recent visit to Jeddah. 
 
“This is the time for all political parties, Government, religious and civil society leaders to step up and defuse these tensions because they have a tremendous capacity to spiral out of control at an alarming rate,” he added. 
 
In the Philippines, Mr. Ging visited Compostela Valley in the southern island of Mindanao, where he met with families who lost relatives, crops and homes when Typhoon Bopha hit in December 2012. The typhoon – the biggest storm anywhere in the world in 2012 – killed more than 1,000 people and affected approximately 6.2 million.
 
Mr. Ging praised the response effort mobilized by the local government and supported by the international community, calling it a “really excellent” model. However, he warned that the needs of the local communities should not fall off the international community’s radar. 
 
“We have an effective operation which is very cost-efficient and you can see the real physical result of our effort on the ground but it is falling short,” he said. “We don’t have the facilities – the healthcare facilities, the medical supplies, the food assistance and the shelter support for everybody who has been affected by this crisis.”
 
The Philippines humanitarian appeal for 2013 is seeking US$112 million to help hundreds of thousands of people in Mindanao affected by frequent natural disasters, and decades of conflict and clan violence.  Nearly 70 per cent of the funding will go to the Bopha response to provide aid to more than 900,000 people for the first six months of 2012. So far, aid organizations have only received 33 per cent of the total funding for the Philippines.