BANGKOK (AlertNet) – The United Nations humanitarian chief urged donors on Saturday to fill a $41 million funding shortfall to help thousands of people displaced by sectarian conflict in western Myanmar, describing conditions at their camps as among the worst she has seen.
The UN has received only $27 million out of $68 million needed over the next nine months for some 115,000 people displaced by two waves of violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State, said Valerie Amos, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, at a news conference in Bangkok.
Inadequate funding “is seriously limiting our capacity to respond,” said Amos after a six-day trip to Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Donors were concerned that supporting the establishment of camps in areas where people have fled would reinforce the segregation of Rakhine and Rohingya communities, she said.
“You have to help people where they are now. You can’t punish people for the fact that they’ve lost their homes,” she said.
Amos also urged donors and countries “to put pressure on the government of Myanmar to sort out the issues of citizenship” for the mostly stateless Rohingya and begin the process of reconciliation.
Many people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see the country’s estimated 800,000 Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh who deserve neither rights nor sympathy.
Bangladesh regards them as foreigners and has turned back Rohingya fleeing the violence in Myanmar. The United Nations has referred to them as "virtually friendless".
“My concern is that if you don’t begin a reconciliation process, you’re not rebuilding trust between those communities and positions will become hardened,” said Amos. “Undoubtedly it will take time… but the fact that it will take a long time is not a reason not to start.”
Assistance provided in different camps varied significantly, but the conditions at one Rohingya camp in Myebon was “one of the worst” seen by Amos, who referenced emergencies in Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
“It’s extremely crowded. The tents themselves that people are sheltering under are of extraordinarily poor quality and almost non-existent,” she said. Sanitation and access to water for bathing and cooking was “terrible”.
“The ability for people to be able to provide for their families is extremely limited. There is no school and the children cannot go to school anywhere else,” she added.
She also voiced concerns about the arrival of the cool season and the possible spread of disease.
“I was genuinely shocked by some of what I saw in terms of some people who have been displaced… surrounded by security forces who are trying to make sure that fighting doesn’t break out again between the two communities,” Amos said.
“People cannot live like that for the longer term.”
Myanmar’s military-backed government came to power in March 2011 after half a century of military rule, and has embarked on a range of reforms that have boosted media freedom, changed labour laws and led to ceasefire talks with ethnic rebel groups - reforms which led to an easing of Western sanctions.
“While it is a time of positive change in the country, humanitarian needs have increased – and this is a major concern,” said Amos, who also visited the Kachin state, where about 75,000 people have been displaced since June 2011 by fighting between the Myanmar army and ethnic Kachin rebels.
The U.N. has been unable to provide assistance to almost 40,000 people since July 2012 because the government has not permitted it to go areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
“There are local NGOs and organisations that are working there. We’re getting information from them that the situation is deteriorating because supplies have run out,” she said. “That’s why we would like to be able to get in and help with restoring those supplies.”