Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State are in urgent need of shelter assistance ahead of this year’s mid-May to mid-September monsoon, local aid groups and agencies warn.
“Proper shelters are urgently needed for these people before the rains begin. It’s just the beginning now,” Seng Li, programme manager with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), one of a handful of local faith-based groups working in the area and supported by Oxfam, told IRIN.
Kachin State, a remote, mountainous region bordering China, gets up to five metres of rain annually, most of it in June, July and August.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 3,000 people were displaced in April, some for the second and third time, from more than 14 villages and four camps following fresh clashes between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government for decades.
The response to the most recent displacements has been led by local NGOs in the area, with support from international organizations. To date, food assistance has been provided to both the newly displaced and those who were already displaced in the area, with cash grants also distributed to some people. Water, sanitation and hygiene support has also been provided.
Many of the displaced are currently staying in 400 temporary white tents provided by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), each one often housing up to four families at a time, with other families being accommodated in existing temporary shelters or in host communities.
However, aid workers say the tents offer little protection against the elements and could put them at increased health risk.
“Sometimes, the rainwater flows into the tents,” Seng Li said. “Those who sleep in the tents can easily get cold because of the wet floor,” he added, citing particular health concerns for children and the elderly who are more vulnerable.
A multi-sector rapid assessment conducted on 24 and 25 April identified over 2,700 newly-displaced people accommodated across four locations in Man Win Gyi (about 1,900 IDPs) and Namhkan township (about 900 IDPs).
The security situation remains tense with reports of continued fighting on 4 and 8 May in Man Win Gyi. In addition, starting from 30 April, fighting has been reported in the Pan Hseng area, displacing over 400 individuals to Muse Township. This indicates that displacement and fighting is spilling over into neighbouring northern Shan State, where government troops are battling the Shan State Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, two rebel groups fighting for greater autonomy.
Shelter funding needed
This latest round of displacement in Kachin State is on top of the 100,000 residents who were displaced following the collapse of a 17-year-old ceasefire between government forces and the KIA in June 2011; many of their shelters are now also in need of attention and repair.
“The rainy season is coming in and we’re not ready to face it,” La Bung, camp leader of the Jamaikaung IDP camp in the state capital of Myitkyina, and home to some 1,000 IDPs, confirmed. “This is our biggest headache.”
“The walls of some of our shelters are damaged,” said Ka Mai La, another camp leader at the Mung Nar Lavang Camp, home to close to 200 people on the other side of the Ayeyarwady river, gesturing towards a row of makeshift shelters cobbled together from bamboo and corrugated iron sheeting. “I don’t know when we can replace them with new ones.”
Earlier this year, the Shelter Cluster estimated that 20,000-25,000 IDPs were living in sub-standard shelter, had no shelter, or were sharing spaces in collective centres, with funding urgently needed.
An estimated 2,500 shelters need to be repaired or upgraded in 2014 after almost three years’ use.
Meanwhile, concern is growing over the humanitarian impact the upcoming rains will have on access to the area. Over 50 percent of the IDPs remain in areas beyond government control, where access is already difficult, although government authorities are currently permitting regular cross-line access.
As a result, there have been significant variations in terms of the quality and quantity of assistance provided, aid workers say.
“Some roads are damaged and impassible [because of heavy rains],” said Naw Din, project coordinator of Karuna Myanmar Social Services, another local NGO on the ground. “It’s a big challenge for us in delivering humanitarian aid.”
“Due to lack of accessibility, some areas are unfortunately left for some time without any assistance such as food or health care in the rainy season,” he said.