A Muslim woman holds a baby at a refugee camp for people displaced by violence earlier this year outside Sittwe, western Myanmar, Oct. 30, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – The United Nations has asked for $41 million to respond urgently to the needs of more than 115,000 people displaced by communal violence in western Myanmar.
The plan, revised from an earlier appeal launched in July, requests a total of $68 million to provide humanitarian aid up to June next year. So far, donors have contributed $27 million.
“A decisive response by donors with immediate funding will provide urgently needed life-saving aid such as emergency shelter, clean drinking water, food and healthcare,” said the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, Ashok Nigam, at the launch of the plan in Yangon on Wednesday, also attended by Myanmar’s minister for border affairs.
“Tens of thousands of people are living in terrible conditions and they desperately need our help,” he said, adding that humanitarian agencies are short of funds and materials.
Long-running tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are stateless, turned violent in early June and again in October, killing at least 160 people and displacing tens of thousands, mostly Muslims.
Rights groups say the Rohingya face some of the worst discrimination in the world. The Rakhines and other Burmese view them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, who deserve neither rights nor sympathy.
A Reuters investigation found that the wave of attacks this year was organised and led by Rakhine nationalists tied to a powerful political party in the state, incited by Buddhist monks and, some witnesses said, abetted at times by local security forces.
Human Rights Watch recently released new satellite imagery showing widespread destruction of homes and property in areas of Myanmar largely inhabited by the Rohingya.
According to the United Nations, no major disease outbreaks have been recorded so far. But there are reports of an increasing number of diarrhoea cases in camps for the displaced as access to water, sanitation and hygiene are poor.
Safety and security concerns for aid workers are complicating the delivery of relief.
Two weeks ago, Medecins Sans Frontieres told AlertNet it was unable to provide healthcare to the displaced due to threats against its staff by hardline Rakhine nationalists.
The response plan said this has led to challenges in human resources, humanitarian access and logistics, “with some staff feeling unsafe to continue their service, and some of the private transporters and manual labourers unwilling to rent their assets and services to the humanitarian partners.”
“Myanmar authorities must be in a position to guarantee unhindered humanitarian access for humanitarian actors and engage with the community leaders to ensure a favourable environment for relief operations,” it added.