The UN is calling for urgent action in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State as levels of communal violence worsen.
"The needs of the displaced people in Rakhine are urgent,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam told IRIN from Yangon. “Significantly more resources are needed to sustain the humanitarian efforts. I would urge all partners to help us meet these challenges in Rakhine State immediately."
The call comes amid a fresh wave of communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic (mainly Buddhist) Rakhine this week which has already left at least four people dead and over 1,000 homes burned.
According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar on 23 October, 531 houses in six villages in Minbya Township and 508 houses in two villages in Mrauk-U Township were burnt down. Many say the real number of casualties could be much higher.
The Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority of 800,000, unrecognized as citizens by the Burmese government, have long faced persecution and discrimination in Myanmar.
Ethnic and religious tensions have prompted thousands to flee, mostly to neighbouring Bangladesh.
This week’s violence follows major troubles in June when more than 90,000 residents, mostly Rohingya Muslims, were displaced after the alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by a group of Muslim men in May. At least 78 people were killed and more than 4,800 homes and buildings were destroyed in the June violence.
Currently some 75,000 are displaced in Rakhine. They are living in 40 camps and temporary locations in Sittwe (capital of Rakhine State) and Kyauktaw. Most are Rohingya in nine overcrowded camps in Sittwe, separated from the rest of the community due to security concerns.
Camp conditions are poor, with many not meeting international Sphere standards (best practice in food aid, nutrition, health, water and sanitation and emergency shelter provision), say aid workers on the ground.
There are indications that some displacement may also be taking place between villages. However, only a few affected villages can be reached at the moment, said the latest humanitarian bulletin from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Humanitarian partners are currently working with the authorities to identify individuals in need, and are doing their utmost to provide assistance.
More than 20 UN agencies and international NGOs are currently working in Sittwe. Food, non-food, health, education, water and sanitation are urgent needs, they say.
Humanitarian and development assistance programmes in the area were interrupted from June to September during the monsoon. The area sees the highest incidence of malnutrition and health problems - a critical issue that needs addressing beyond the needs of existing camps, say aid workers.
In late September, some partners, including the World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency and some NGOs managed to resume some of their activities, but it is unclear how the latest violence will affect operations.
Residents describe the current situation as “fluid” with police deploying reinforcements in the townships of Minbya and Mrauk-U where curfews are in effect.
Aid workers have been issuing warnings: “It’s just going from bad to worse,” said one aid worker on the ground, who asked not to be identified. “I just don’t think people know what is happening here. The message is just not getting out.”
Under the Rakhine Response Plan - an inter-agency strategy launched in July to provide assistance for some 80,000 people affected by the crisis until the end of the year - just US$14.9 million of the $32.5 million requested has been disbursed or pledged.
Of this, $4.8 million came from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), set up in 2005 to provide more timely humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disaster and armed conflict.
“I really don’t think donors know how serious the issue is… The reality of donors not doing enough is just making the suffering of these people worse. The humanitarian imperative to deliver life-saving assistance has never been greater. The time to act is now,” the aid worker said.