Three years ago in Myanmar’s Kachin State, which borders China, renewed fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke a 17-year ceasefire.
Since June 2011, the conflict has displaced more than 100,000 people into IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps and host communities on both sides of the frontline, creating a desperate need for shelter, food, water and medical care.
Alongside other national and international humanitarian actors intervening in Kachin and Northern Shan in direct response to these needs, Solidarités International has, since early 2012, been running a rapid emergency response program as well as integrated WASH programs to improve access to drinking water and sanitation for IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) and to help improve their knowledge of safe hygiene practices.
Despite several rounds of peace talks which have intensified in recent months between the government, the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), fighting has continued and the situation remains unstable. Nearly 3 years after the initial conflict, two waves of further fighting erupted in south Kachin; one in November 2013 in Nam Lin Pa (Southwest Mansi township) and again in April 2014 in Man Win Gyi (Southeast Mansi township).
Following the renewed tensions, Solidarités International has been able to implement, in parallel to its other ongoing programs and in partnership with local and international NGOs, an emergency WaSH intervention to reach approximately 3,500 IDPs recently displaced from their villages of origin, from previous IDP camps and from host villages.
3 years on, the humanitarian situation is still critical as some 96,000 people currently remain displaced and are accommodated in over 160 different locations and host communities.
Two thirds of all IDPs in Kachin and Northern Shan States are housed in camps located in remote and isolated areas beyond government control, making it challenging to get aid to them and raising concerns for the protection of civilians now living in parts of the country where tensions are the highest. Local aid organisations are stretched beyond their capacity, while UN agencies and other international organisations face ongoing government restrictions on accessing IDPs in areas outside of government control. Humanitarian organisations are concerned by the increase in insecurity but remain committed to meeting the urgent needs of the thousands of people who have been displaced over recent weeks.
In both governmental and non-governmental areas, Solidarités International has been focusing on a preventive approach rather than a direct response to disease outbreak; however, the lack of medical actors in the area remains the biggest issue, leading to a paucity of reliable data on the overall situation.
Despite ongoing efforts to reach all areas and cover the needs of IDPs, concern remains for the much lower level of services provided in non-governmental areas, primarily due to the difficulty of access. The recent visit of Solidarités International staff to non-governmental areas has highlighted the discrepancy in the assistance provided: in one camp (Woi Chyai) for instance, the ratio of latrines per people is worryingly low, at one latrine for 90 IDPs.
“The support provided by humanitarian agencies has enabled aid to reach thousands of people, some of whom have been displaced for the second or third time,” said Florent Turc, Field Coordinator for Solidarités International in Kachin. “The approaching rainy season will bring higher risks of flooding and water-borne diseases, so water, sanitation, and hygiene will increasingly be a priority in humanitarian interventions over the coming weeks. The deteriorating security situation is already hampering access to the affected areas and the poor conditions of the roads during the rainy season will make it even more difficult to respond from now on.”
3 years on, as IDPs are caught in this cyclical violence, hope that they will be able to return to their villages diminishes. As displacement begins to endure, access to livelihoods for IDPs is increasingly important in order to help restore some sense of personal worth and self-subsistence. Living in camps, IDPs have no access to income and rely mainly on external assistance such as food distribution. Lack of transport and an insufficient knowledge of the Burmese language forbid people from finding work or starting a business. Women, young children and elders have no choice but to stay in the camps and focus on meeting the daily needs of their families. Lack of access to land furthermore prevents IDPs from taking initiatives to cultivate crops inside the camps.
Based on these needs, identified as a priority by the IDPs themselves, Solidarités International has launched a food security and livelihoods project in Bhamo and Momauk Township. After an initial wealth and vulnerability ranking assessment carried out by Solidarités International staff, IDPs will take part in the development of home gardens and bagriculture, and start income-generating activities within their camps. Aside from increasing vegetable consumption, vegetable-growing activities should furthermore help IDPs to generate savings and improve their capacity to purchase other necessary food and household items.
Whilst humanitarian organisations continue to scale-up their interventions in order to respond to the growing needs of the Kachin people and advocate for increasing access to all IDPs, hope that three years of war will soon be brought to an end still remains.