Hundreds of thousands of people severely affected by disruption of humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State, Myanmar [EN/MY]

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(Yangon, 2 April 2014): Humanitarian operations in Rakhine State have been interrupted after attacks on UN and NGO premises in Sittwe one week ago led to the relocation of more than 170 staff and severe damage to more than a dozen humanitarian premises. Life-saving assistance to displaced people, isolated villages, and Rakhine communities have been seriously disrupted. The provision of water, health services, food, and protection are of particular concern.

A UN delegation led by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Renata Dessallien and country heads of UN agencies returned from Sittwe today after visiting camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and meeting with State and Union level authorities.

“What happened in Sittwe last week was not just an attack on international organisations, but an attack on the entire humanitarian response in Rakhine State,” said Ms. Dessallien. “We have had constructive discussions with the Myanmar authorities, who have assured us that their international obligations to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff will be met. Our main priority now is to work with the Government to put the necessary conditions in place to allow more than a thousand humanitarian staff to get back to work to assist vulnerable people from all communities.”

The immediate effects of the disruption of humanitarian services is already being felt in IDP camps and isolated villages in Rakhine State. This is the peak of the dry season and water availability could reach critical levels within a week in some IDP camps, particularly in Pauktaw. Nearly 15,000 children in IDP camps no longer have access to psycho-social support, while life-saving therapeutic treatment for more than 300 children with severe acute malnutrition in Sittwe has been suspended. A total of 1,300 metric tonnes of food will need to be distributed in Rakhine within the next two weeks, which will be a challenge in the absence of the NGOs as implementing partners.

“International NGOs are extremely concerned about the impact of the recent violence against the humanitarian community, especially international NGOs in Rakhine, and the severe reduction of activities which support thousands of displaced and vulnerable people,” said Mr Kelland Stevenson, Country Director for Save the Children. “Without the immediate and full restoration of an enabling and secure environment to re-establish essential life-saving assistance, the humanitarian situation will rapidly deteriorate, putting children and their families at even greater risk.”

Despite efforts by the Ministry of Health which deployed rapid response teams to Sittwe, only a small number of IDPs are receiving healthcare services. International NGOs normally provide an average of 400 emergency medical referrals to hospitals every month in Rakhine.

“The health system in Rakhine had already been severely impacted by the suspension of MSF-Holland in February, and now health services for most of the 140,000 displaced people in Rakhine and over 700,000 vulnerable people outside camps is severely hampered, particularly in terms of life-saving emergency medical referrals,” said Dr. Liviu Vedrasco, Health Cluster Coordinator for the World Health Organisation in Myanmar.

The violence on the 26 and 27 March, during which UN and NGO offices, living quarters, and warehouses were seriously damaged or looted, was the culmination of months of increasing intimidation and harassment of humanitarian staff and local suppliers by a vocal minority of the Rakhine community.

For further information, please contact: Pierre Péron, OCHA Myanmar, peronp@un.org, Mobile: +95 (0) 9250198997

OCHA press releases are available at www.unocha.org/roap or www.reliefweb.int/country/mmr.

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