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Cholera outbreak in Kachin refugee camps

News and Press Release
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Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Children and elderly people in Kachin refugee camps along the Sino-Burmese border have contracted cholera because of unsafe drinking water, according to workers with the Relief Action Network for IDP and Refugees (Ranir).

More than 30 children have contracted cholera and one child has died of the disease at the Pajau Refugee Camp, Ranir said.

Three refugee camps in Mansi Township and the Pajau Camp in Waimaw Township in Kachin State are all experiencing a lack of sanitary drinking water, Ranir official La Rip told Mizzima. The camps are located in mountainous areas making access to clean drinking water and toilet facilities difficult.

In China, the Ruili District adjacent to Kachin State has also experienced a cholera outbreak, according to the Wunpawng Ning Htoi group (People’s Light), which works to provide food and medicine to Kachin refugees. No estimates of how many cases have occurred were available.

May Li Aung, a worker with the Wunpawng Ning Htoi, told Mizzima that drinking water is unsafe and there are few sanitary toilets in the mountainous areas. Workers said the refugee camps near towns have enough water and sanitary toilets.

According to the Kachin refugees’ relief committee, there are 19 refugee camps in China for Kachin war refugees. In Kachin State, more than 40 refugee camps are located in townships including Laiza, Mansi, Mai Ja Yang, Lweje Waimaw and Manwingyi, with up to an estimated 44,000 people living in the camps.

The camps are operated by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Burmese citizens inside and outside the country, local and foreign aid groups, religious organizations and social organizations have donated food and medicine to the camps, according to Dwe P Sar, a refugee worker. However, large international groups have not been allowed access to the area by the government to assess the conditions and the needs. Relief supplies including food, shelter, bedding, clothes, tents and medicine are badly needed, say aid workers.

“The relief aid is not enough for the refugees,” Dwe P Sar told Mizzima. “The refugees still don’t know when or how they can return to their homes. Now, aid for food and health care are urgently needed.”

In mid-2011, intense fighting between the Kachin Independence Organization and government troops broke out in Kachin State, causing people to flee their homes and farms. Fighting in the areas continues, although the government and KIO are now engaged in peace negotiations.

The KIO has held out for a broad political dialogue to solve the conflict that has gone on for decades. So far, the pace of the negotiations has been slow, and there are no signs of a quick agreement.