Humanitarian crisis looms in western Myanmar as foreign aid workers leave

Tue Apr 1, 2014 8:20am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

DHAECHAUNG VILLAGE, Myanmar (Reuters) - With food stocks dwindling and prices rising by the hour in his camp for displaced Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state, Hla Maung decided to ask a friend in the neighbouring village for food.

A bag of rice that cost 15,000 kyats (about $15) in the camp on Saturday morning went for 25,000 kyats later that day, he said on his way to the home of his friend, a Rohingya fortunate enough not to have lost his house or fishing boats during outbursts of sectarian violence that periodically rock this western state on the Bay of Bengal.

The situation is about to get dramatically worse for Hla Maung and tens of thousands of others dependent on food and water rations, said humanitarian workers evacuated after recent riots in the state capital, Sittwe. At least 20,000 people in displacement camps around Sittwe will run out of drinking water within 10 days, while food stocks will run out within two weeks, imperilling thousands more.

The overall numbers of people facing shortages are likely much higher, because the aid workers were referring only to communities in the Sittwe area. Communities in other parts of the state will be affected also, because aid agencies used Sittwe as a staging point to bring supplies to 140,000 people in camps as well as about 40,000 more in isolated villages.

While most recipients are ethnic Rohingya Muslims who make up a minority of the state's population, some majority ethnic Rakhine Buddhists also depend on humanitarian aid.

Aid agencies were forced to halt operations last Wednesday when about 400 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists destroyed their homes, offices, warehouses and boats used to transport supplies. Police fired warning shots to quell the rioters and rescue aid workers from the mob, and none were killed or injured.

Riots broke out again the following day and an 11-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet when police fired warning shots while a 39-year-old woman received a minor gunshot wound, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

In the absence of nongovernment organisations (NGOs), the United Nations is working with the government to bring emergency supplies to camps, but that is only a short-term solution, said Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"In the medium to long term, we really need safety and secure premises for NGOs," he said. "The government needs to ensure the safety and security of both international and national staff."   Continued...

A Rohingya man carrying his child looks at police and volunteer conducting a national census at a Rohingya village in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun