Myanmar: 2006 Progress Report

Situation Report
Originally published


This report covers 1 January to 31 December 2006

In a world of global challenges, continued poverty, inequity, and increasing vulnerability to disasters and disease, the International Federation with its global network, works to accomplish its Global Agenda, partnering with local community and civil society to prevent and alleviate human suffering from disasters, diseases and public health emergencies.

In brief

Programme summary: The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) proved itself a consistent supporter of vulnerable communities during 2006, both in terms of disaster response to emergencies such as cyclone Mala, to longer term support of communities. Related to this growing performance, MRCS recognized certain gaps in its capacity that it will need to address in 2007 - and probably beyond - with the support of the south-east Asia secretariat team and partner National Societies. The new leadership of the MRCS established in October 2006 is very experienced. Their arrival heralded a period of optimism and energy that has been carried through to 2007. The secretariat team - in the Yangon country delegation and Bangkok regional delegation - has begun supporting this new leadership to unleash the emerging potential of Myanmar Red Cross as a leading humanitarian organization in-country. The Federation's country delegation will be taking the lead Movement role in providing this support and will mobilize resources and expertise from various components of the Movement.

Current context

Myanmar remains a country vulnerable to natural disaster. This was amply demonstrated on 28 April 2006 when Cyclone Mala struck many townships in the Rakhine state and Ayeyarwaddy divisions. Once again Myanmar Red Crescent (MRCS) was central to the response. The cyclone was the most destructive to hit the region in 50 years. USD 6.7 million worth of damage was reported to industrial infrastructure alone. In addition, the first reported cases of avian influenza in poultry in Myanmar provided MRCS with the opportunity to take stock of the National Society's contingency planning and reviewing the possible role of Red Cross.

The government's release of new cooperation guidelines for international organizations (INGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) created much discussion. The impact of these guidelines has yet to be fully realized. Initial reaction from the international community, led by the UN, has generally been that an open dialogue, coupled with an understanding of the necessity to safeguard humanitarian principles such as independence and impartiality, is to be encouraged.

Following on from the decision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to cease visits to places of detention in 2005 until the organization was permitted to work in accordance with its standard operating procedures, the ICRC was forced to further scale down its activities in the field in 2006

Indeed, Myanmar remains a challenging context in many respects because of a myriad of internal and external factors. Both the European Union and United States made separate decisions to extend sanctions against Myanmar for another year. In March 2006, Médicins Sans Frontière (MSF) France announced that 'due to protracted difficulty in project activities implementation' it was closing its offices in Myanmar. Such developments underline the importance of supporting the Myanmar Red Cross to develop its roles, image and identity as part of the Red Cross Movement and a leading humanitarian actor that has nationwide reach.

On the administrative front, ministries finalized the move to the new capital of Nay Pyi Taw signalling the end of Yangon's 120 years as the principal city. The Myanmar Red Cross branch near the new capital is playing a useful support role for the National Society headquarters and Movement partners.

Progress towards objectives

Health and Care

Goal: The MRCS has the capacity to plan, manage, implement and evaluate effective health and training programmes in a comprehensive and sustainable way.

Objective: Through the motivation, support and mobilization of its nationwide network of volunteers, the MRCS promotes a healthier and safer environment for the people of Myanmar giving priority to the most vulnerable communities and individuals. The capacity of MRCS is increased through health, community and water and sanitation activities.

Health and care covers three major programme areas: public health in emergency, community based health care and community based first aid. Public health in emergency incorporates emergency health care, psychosocial support and water and sanitation. Community based health includes intervention on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support, TB, malaria and voluntary blood recruitment. Capacity building support to MRCS staff is included in the different programme areas. The overall goal of the 2006-2007 programme is to build capacity of the health and training divisions to plan, manage, implement and evaluate effective health and care in a comprehensive and sustainable way, and to promote a healthier and safer environment giving priority to the most vulnerable communities and individuals. Attaining the goal will be achieved through the motivation, support and mobilization of MRCS' nationwide network of volunteers with increased capacity to scale up proactive health, social, water and sanitation activities.

Public health in emergency

Objective: Myanmar Red Cross Society's capacity to carry out emergency health care services is increased and appropriate services are implemented in the vulnerable communities in eight townships of four states/divisions.

Avian/human influenza preparedness and response

The PHiE (public health in emergency) task group initiated in 2005 met several times mainly on avian influenza (AI) preparedness and response activities. The task group was activated in line with the AI outbreak in poultry farms reported in Mandalay and Sagaing Division townships in March 2006. Following the AI outbreak in two divisions, an inter-sectoral coordination meeting was organized by the Ministry of Health with participation of the MRCS head of health division. MRCS is also active as a member of the AI communication working group led by UNICEF that met several times to produce AI communication materials for Myanmar.

The strengthening of avian human influenza (AHI) prevention, preparedness and response capability of MRCS staff and volunteers has gained momentum. It started by organizing an AI forum attended by 56 RC volunteer leaders from all 17 states and divisions, HQ staff and executive committee members in the first quarter. This was followed in the fourth quarter of 2006 by core disseminators training with 35 trained Red Cross (RC) volunteers from branches. An AI coordination mechanism was established with the Department of Health, WHO, ICRC, UNICEF and LBVC (Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department). Representatives from these organizations were requested to act as resource people to provide expertise, and to create a better understanding of the AHI situation, prevention, protection and control.

To support the branches with AI communication, posters were distributed. MRCS also distributed 1,200 personal protection equipment (PPE) sets of masks, goggles, aprons, gloves and head covers for health staff as requested. The involvement of RC volunteers in the culling of chickens and birds in the outbreak areas in Mandalay and Sagaing townships necessitated the purchase of additional PPE sets in the last quarter. MRCS is preparing for the possibility of further outbreaks of avian influenza and continues to plan how branches may assist in the response.

The overall programme framework for the MRCS PHiE was not finalized as planned as strengthening AI preparedness and response capacity became the priority. Although there were delays in implementation in the initial phase due to lack of experience, the overall objective was met with the continued support from the Federation delegation. The participation of the head of the health division in a regional PHiE training workshop and of the deputy head in the regional SPHERE training in Bangkok was a good learning opportunity. This will guide the health division in the development and strengthening of the MRCS PHiE programme. The support of a fulltime staff as the PHiE programme officer in the health division will help consolidate progress in 2007.

For further information:

- Myanmar Red Cross;; Ph +95 1 383 680; Fax +95 1 383675

- Federation Country Delegation, Ms Bridget Gardner, Head of Delegation, Phone +959513 0564 , email:

- Federation Regional Delegation Bangkok: Mr. Bekele Geleta, Head of Regional Delegation, Bangkok, Phone: +66 26661 8201 ext 100, Email:

- In Geneva: Tsunami regional officer Mr Josse Gillijns +41 22 730 4258; fax +41 22 733 0395, Email: