Asia Pacific Regional Humanitarian Update

Situation Report
Myanmar — Feature
Jahtu Zup Aura camp handwashing station
A woman cleans her hands at a public hand washing station set up by KBC-HDD. (Credit: KBC)

Humanitarians maintain life-saving support to internally displaced people as COVID-19 outbreak evolves

Humanitarian actors in Myanmar are doing everything they can to support the preparedness and prevention efforts for COVID-19 while continuing life-saving assistance for internally displaced men, women and children.

The outbreak of COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact across the world. But for those countries already experiencing humanitarian crises, the consequence is exacerbated by pre-existing challenges, such as a lack of access to basic services, as well as challenging living conditions, particularly in camps and displacements sites for internally displaced people (IDPs).

Months before Myanmar confirmed its first case of COVID-19, humanitarians engaged with the government and organizations, as well as the communities to prepare for a possible outbreak. Where necessary, programmes have been adjusted and modalities amended to reduce the risk of introduction of or exposure to the virus, maintain critical operations, prepare communities and prevent a possible outbreak.

In Kachin, the northernmost state of Myanmar, about 97,000 people are displaced across 136 camps or camp-like settings as a result of the armed conflict that reignited in 2011. While the intensity of the conflict has declined significantly since August 2018, the families who remain displaced continue to rely on humanitarian aid to make ends meet.

For these IDPs, the prevailing scarcity of water hampers their ability to protect themselves from the virus. The Kachin Baptist Convention (BKC), a humanitarian and development department of the Kachin Baptist Church, is one of hundreds of local actors who are at the forefront of response to address this challenge. The KBC has made the most of the financial support by the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund and worked with local communities to install a network of handwashing stations with soap across 15 IDP camps. Over 2,400 vulnerable men, women and children can now take the necessary hygiene measures to contain the spread of the virus. Around 2,000 people have also received drinking water, as hot season in Myanmar has reached its peak.

“I know washing hands regularly will keep me away from the virus, but we do not have enough water in our camp as there are about 100 families living here,” said Daw Khawng Nang*, a resident of one IDP camp. “Now we have a basin with soaps for all of us,” she continued with a contented smile.

Daw Khawng Nang is one of thousands who are benefitting from ongoing operations by humanitarian actors, not only in Kachin, but also in other conflict-affected areas like Chin, Rakhine and northern Shan. While no case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in camps and displacement sites in Myanmar, humanitarians have ramped up their efforts to prevent and prepare for a possible outbreak. Programmes to raise awareness about the risks of the virus and promote prevention messages have reached over 280 camps and displacement sites, while activities, such as installation of handwashing stations, distribution of soap and personal protective equipment continue across many camps and displacement sites.

Addressing pre-existing needs remains a priority

Around 900,000 people in Myanmar continue to need humanitarian assistance. Efforts to contain the spread of the virus go in tandem with other life-saving operations to address people’s pre-existing needs in a principled and impartial manner. Over 360,000 most vulnerable people and IDPs have received food assistance in March alone. More efforts continue to address people’s needs in healthcare, shelter, essential items, access to education, water, hygiene and sanitation.

A reserve allocation by the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund in the amount of US$4 million is expected to boost these efforts, while aiming to ensure a coordinated response to COVID-19 related actions for displaced people and other vulnerable people in all conflict-affected areas.

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