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    Rakhine IDPs in Myanmar brace for monsoon rains

    A Rohingya
    IDP and his family outside his tent in western Rakhine State. More than 125,000
    Rohingyas were displaced in June and October 2012 following inter-communal
    violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State © Brendan Brady/IRIN

    IRIN News:
    April 24, 2013

    RAKHINE STATE, 24 April 2013 (IRIN) – More
    than 125,000 displaced Rohingya in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State are bracing
    for this year’s punishing monsoon rains.
    “There’s no real shelter here. People are
    getting diseases and the rainy season will make it even worse,” Ali Mia, a
    45-year-old Rohingya father-of-six, whose home in Sittwe, the capital city of
    Rakhine State, was burned during inter-communal violence in June, told IRIN.
    Set to begin as early as May, the rains will
    come in daily downpours, which, in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of
    Rakhine’s dozens of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), could hasten
    the spread of disease, aid workers warn.
    “We’re very worried with the monsoon season
    coming up. If these people are not relocated we could see a very big humanitarian
    problem, [including] disease outbreaks,” said Peter Paule de Groote, the head
    of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Myanmar. “The water level will rise
    and some of it will be very, very muddy, if not flooded, and there’s nowhere
    for them to go.”
    Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and
    Muslims in June and October left 167 dead, hundreds injured and more than
    125,000 displaced in Rakhine State, according to government estimates.
    More than 10,000 homes were burned or
    destroyed in the violence.
    Under Burmese law, the Rohingya are de jure
    stateless. There are an estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar and human rights
    groups say they have long faced persecution and discrimination.
    On 19 April [
    ], the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for urgent action and increased
    financial support to improve conditions of the displaced to avert a
    “humanitarian catastrophe”.
    Some have camped in paddy fields or low-lying
    areas that will flood once the rains start.
    Already, international aid groups are
    reporting high cases of respiratory and skin infections, worms and diarrhoea in
    the camps they have visited. Such diseases are much more likely to spread in
    sodden conditions, they warn.
    Most of the thousands of unregistered Rohingya IDPs in this camp live in thatched-straw shelters spread across a flood-prone field. More than 125,000 Rohingyas were displaced in June and October 2012 following inter-communal violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State © Brendan Brady/IRIN  
    Moreover, the onset of rains will likely be
    accompanied by a spike in water-borne diseases, and the camp’s primitive
    latrines remain vulnerable to overflowing from rainfall.
    “The water and sanitation situation is
    appalling,” said MSF’s de Groote.
    Unregistered lack assistance
    But it is the risk of those displaced not yet
    registered with the authorities that is most worrying.
    While partners are providing life-saving
    assistance to more than 100,000 IDPs registered by the government, there is a
    sizable population (15,000 individuals) that is displaced but has yet to be
    allowed access to humanitarian aid.
    Several thousand are living in makeshift sites
    that have not been sanctioned by the government. IDPs in these locations
    receive limited to no assistance as opposed to those in official camps.
    Unlike in official camps, where residents are
    supplied with waterproof tents, residents of Maw Than Mia, home to some 1,000
    unregistered displaced, sleep in tiny huts constructed of nothing more than
    thatched straw.
    They are particularly vulnerable because their
    camp is spread across a low-lying field which, previously used for rice
    cultivation, is designed to flood.
    Aid agencies are calling on the government to
    address the shelter needs as a matter of priority, noting adequate land needs
    to be identified and allocated and challenges related to water and sanitation
    addressed, particularly in Myebon and Pauktaw.
    Inter-agency plans
    According to the UN Office for the
    Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, humanitarian partners, in collaboration
    with the government, have developed an inter-agency preparedness plan for
    Rakhine running from March to June.
    The plan aims to address preparedness and
    response actions with specific sector/cluster response plans for two scenarios:
    1) a potential natural hazard such as a cyclone which would affect over 250,000
    people across the state and 2) a potential deterioration of the humanitarian
    situation during the rainy season, particularly in the camps.