OCHA Operations Director alarmed by humanitarian impact of continued inter-communal tensions in Myanmar
(New York 28 March 2013) OCHA’s Director of Operations, John Ging, expressed alarm today over continued inter-communal tensions in Myanmar. Speaking after a four-day mission to Myanmar and the Philippines, Mr. Ging called for urgent help for more than 125,000 displaced people in Rakhine State who face the prospect of serious flooding when the monsoon season starts in May. The majority of those displaced by inter-communal violence in June and October 2012 are Rohingya Muslims.
“Tens of thousands of people displaced by violence in Rakhine State are now in imminent danger of yet another tragedy when the monsoon rains hit,” Mr. Ging said. “We must act immediately to prevent a predictable tragedy. Many of the camps where the IDPs are currently located are on low-lying ground which floods every year.”
In meetings with Government officials, Mr. Ging emphasized that land must be given for new IDP sites; people must be allowed to move freely; and efforts must be redoubled to promote peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups. He encouraged the Government to correct misperceptions about aid delivery in Rakhine.
“We need the Government’s support to build community respect for the international aid effort as there has been a serious problem with threats and incitement against aid agencies and aid workers,” he said.
He called on the Government to resume coordination with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which has offered to help all those affected by the violence. “The offer of the OIC to provide assistance to both communities without distinction positions them to be an important part of the solution,” Mr Ging said, recalling commitments he received from the OIC leadership in a recent visit to Jeddah.
Mr. Ging expressed alarm over the lack of progress in reducing inter-communal tension since his last visit in August 2012.
“Last year, I emphasized that the communal tensions in Rakhine had the potential to undermine Myanmar’s impressive democratization, peace-building and economic reforms and to increase humanitarian suffering,” he said, adding that the corrosive force of these tensions was evident last week when new violence erupted in the central township of Meikhtila, in Mandalay Region, displacing some 12,000 people.
“Strong leadership from the Government, along with an independent investigation and prosecution of crimes, will be essential to end intolerance and violence. The gravity and urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. Community and religious leaders also have a major role in promoting a culture of peace and mutual respect in multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Myanmar. ”
During his trip, Mr. Ging also travelled to the Philippines, where he visited Compostela Valley in the southern island of Mindanao. He met people who lost their family members, crops and homes when Typhoon Bopha hit in December 2012. The typhoon, which was the biggest storm anywhere in the world in 2012, killed more than 1000 people and affected some 6.2 million. Mr. Ging was deeply impressed by the resilience of the people and the superb organization of the response by local and central authorities.
“The survivors are rebuilding their lives and livelihoods with dignity and determination,” said Mr. Ging. “We must ensure that their needs do not fall off the international agenda.”