Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs - Statement on the Republic of the Union of Myanmar


7 December 2012

Mission to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (3 – 7 December 2012)

Thank you everyone for joining me today.

This is my first visit to Myanmar and it has been a very busy four days. There have been a number of very encouraging political developments this year but also a number of humanitarian challenges that need to be addressed where the United Nations and our partners can help and make a difference.

I am here for a number of reasons. I wanted to look at the work we are doing to strengthen the Government’s disaster management capacity. Myanmar faces natural disasters every year and events such as last month’s earthquake in Mandalay remind us all that more must be done to help the authorities to respond quickly and effectively.

I also came here to see for myself the ongoing humanitarian challenges in Myanmar where almost half a million people are internally displaced and are in need of assistance. While it is a time of positive change in the country, humanitarian needs have increased – and this is a major concern.

In Rakhine State, some 115,000 people are living in camps or with host families as a result of inter-communal violence. I travelled to eight camps in Rakhine on Wednesday – where I met with people from different communities. The level of assistance provided in the different camps varies significantly. In Maungdaw, I visited two communities where new houses are being built and communities are slowly rebuilding their lives. In contrast, I visited an IDP camp in Myebon where I saw thousands of people in shockingly overcrowded, substandard shelter with poor sanitation. They don’t have jobs, children are not in school and they can’t leave the camp because their movement is restricted. The situation is dire. In other camps in Pauktaw and outside Sittwe where basic assistance is being provided, I am concerned about peoples’ future. Children have been out of school for up to six months, the men are not able to provide for their families and there is a general sense of hopelessness.

In Kachin and northern Shan states, continued fighting since June last year has forced some 75,000 people from their homes and in need of assistance. Yesterday I visited Jan Mai Kawng camp outside Myityina, where some 700 IDPs are living. The camp is located in a Government-controlled area and it receives regular assistance from aid organizations. My bigger concern is for the people displaced in other parts of the state where the UN has no access. For almost six months now the UN has not been able to provide assistance to almost 40,000 people as we are not permitted to go to KIA-controlled areas. Local partners are providing food and other assistance but their stocks are depleted and with the winter months approaching getting more supplies in is critical.

I had good discussions with President Thein Sein, as well as the Vice President, and a number of Ministers in Nay Pyi Taw and with state officials in both states, which I visited with the Union Minister of Border Affairs.

I commended the President on his recent pledge to enact a range of measures, including addressing issues such as citizenship, resettlement, and reconciliation in Rakhine State as well as pursuing a durable ceasefire in Kachin. I also proposed a number of ways forward. In Rakhine, the tensions between the communities are still running very high. There is a loss of trust and I believe the Government must play a critical role in reconciliation. We need the political leaders at all levels in Myanmar to support the important humanitarian work being done by the United Nations and our partners. Local leaders need to speak out and explain that they have asked us to be there to help. We also need to do a better job of communicating with you on what we are doing – the UN team will be working on this. Our job is to try to help everyone in need.

For Kachin, the UN has substantial experience working in insecure environments. We are working in other countries where the security situation is much worse. We have asked the Government to give us permission to travel to these areas and provide the aid that is so badly needed.

Another challenge which is seriously limiting our capacity to respond has been the inadequate funding to humanitarian issues in Myanmar. In Rakhine, we are asking for $68 million to address the needs of 115,000 displaced people for the next nine months. $41 million is still needed.

To conclude, the last year has seen remarkable changes within Myanmar but humanitarian needs continue and in some areas have intensified. As the country moves ahead with the reform process the Government needs to step up its efforts to address these critical humanitarian issues. This will save lives, assist in the restoration of peace and stability in parts of the country where conflict persists and will enable longer term development work to continue.

Thank you and I am happy to take questions.

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