With suffering crossing ethnic lines in conflict-torn Rakhine State, Myanmar, UNICEF and partners have mounted a response for all children.
RAKHINE STATE, Myanmar (April 5, 2013) — The ethnic conflict that erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in June 2012 and had a resurgence in October displaced 115,000 people, and caused loss of life and livelihood.
For months, displaced persons have been living in overcrowded temporary sites without adequate access to basic services.
The Rohingya minority in Rakhine State are in an increasingly desperate situation and are becoming more and more dependent on international aid. In Myanmar, they’re considered outsiders — not recognized as an official minority and without citizenship rights. Bangladesh has closed its borders to Rohingya attempting to cross, saying it can’t afford to support them.
As part of the United Nations inter-agency response, UNICEF is stepping up to the needs of children across ethnic lines. Health and nutrition, education, hygiene and safety for children are priorities for UNICEF.
The rate of child malnutrition was higher in Rakhine State before conflict erupted, and it has only grown since. UNICEF is working with the State Health Department to address nutrition issues.
The circumference of a child’s arm is one indication of nutrition status. UNICEF measures children’s arms and provides priority micronutrients, ready-to-use therapeutic food and supplementary food to children under five years old, where indicated.
According to Jaumelarhatu, a mother of two boys, “My sons have become healthier and stronger since they were given Plumpy’nut.”
Safe water and good sanitation are hard to come by in the congested sites for internally displaced persons.
These people are suffering, under desperate conditions.
And non-displaced communities are suffering, as well, from loss of income and increased poverty.
During periods of conflict and displacement, children are exceptionally vulnerable and can suffer profoundly. Their access to health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, and education are badly affected.
Yet, waterborne disease is one of the great risks in such sites.
UNICEF and partners from the water and sanitation sector have distributed basic hygiene items, built latrines and safe water supply sources and promoted good hygiene practices.
According to resident Daw Thinn Mya, “The toilets at the camp are helpful, but we need more of them.”
Given the hardship and disruption faced by children during conflict, it is important that they go back to school as soon as possible, to learning and routine.
An education assessment has been conducted in Rakhine to determine appropriate ways for children to catch up on school lessons they have missed for months.
The assessment seeks to identify a realistic time frame for learning and establish a plan to help children study in a shift system. Such a system allows more children to join the temporary learning spaces and learn literacy and numeracy skills — and also have time for play and recreation.
In spite of response from government and development partners, much more assistance is needed.
According to UNICEF Representative in Myanmar Bertrand Bainvel, “Until a process to establish just and lasting peace in Rakhine is charted, the relevance of education and other basic services, children's ability to protect themselves against violence, abuse, exploitation and preventable illnesses will continue to be undermined.”
UNICEF joins the United Nations’ call for rapid resolution of the conflict and sustained social investment for building lasting peace in the Rakhine State.