Burma/Myanmar, January 2012 – Rakhine state, a region stretching along Burma/Myanmar’s western coastline, exemplifies the many socio-economic challenges facing the country. With few roads and no railway system, boats are the only reliable mode of transport for the isolated communities living along the coast and the shores of the regions’ main river, the Kaladan. Due to the poor state of social services and underlying poverty, many households especially in the northern areas of the state suffer from constant food insecurity and a lack of even the most basic health services. The state was also badly affected by Cyclone Giri which hit communities in the south in October 2010.
An added factor is that the population of the state is predominantly Muslim in a country where Buddhism predominates. While not all Muslims face discrimination, many suffer from various forms of discrimination and segregation by the authorities because they are not considered Myanmar citizens. Their plight is so desperate that every year many hundreds s brave the dangerous seas trying to reach Malaysia, Indonesia or even further afield in fragile boats. There is little public knowledge of their situation as most media attention is focused on the political issues of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, none of which have yet positively affected the lives of the many minority communities in the country.
Using its forgotten crisis assessment tool, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil protection department (ECHO) has identified the Muslim communities in Rakhine state as being in particular need of humanitarian assistance. In 2011 alone, ECHO provided more than €4 million, accounting for 30% of its humanitarian budget for Burma/Myanmar, to five projects in Rakhine State. ECHO partners include Action Against Hunger, Medecin Sans Frontiers (Netherlands), the World Food Program, Zoa and UNHCR.
In 2012, ECHO will continue to focus its support on the Muslim population in northern Rakhine State and on the communities in southern Rakhine State which were badly affected by Cyclone Giri in late 2010. Food security, nutrition, health care and protection are our key priorities.
Returning from a regular assessment mission to Rakhine state recently, the head of ECHO’s Office in Yangon, Christophe Reltien, summed up his observations: “In Rakhine State, the people face numerous challenges ranging from social and economic hardship to community tensions over access to land” he stated. “We need a comprehensive approach to addressing this protracted humanitarian crisis, one that addresses the acute needs of the Muslim community and also responds to the humanitarian needs of other communities in that state.”