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Urgent concerted actions needed to improve Water and Sanitation in Rakhine State IDP Sites

Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 21 December 2012: Constrained access to safe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions of large number of people displaced by the conflict in Rakhine state pose health risks to the people living in and near IDP sites.

Vulnerable groups, including children, are at greatest risk of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. Out of the total estimated 115,000 IDPs in Rakhine, about 85,000 are in and around Sittwe.  About 5 per cent of them live in urban sites, with predominantly ethnic Rakhines and 95 per cent in rural sites are mostly inhabited by Rohingyas. 

“In spite of the progress made so far in humanitarian response in Rakhine, clearly much more needs to be done especially in the rural sites to protect children and their families from getting ill from the effects of unsafe water and lack of sanitation,” said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative.
While the urban IDP sites have better accessibility and coverage, the rural sites have much bigger number of IDPs, are in less accessible locations and have worse sanitation conditions due to lack of space for latrines and poor hygiene due to congested living. Only over half of the IDPs have access to what is considered safe water.  About 70 per cent have access to some sanitation and 60 per cent have access to basic sanitary supplies. Drainage and solid waste disposal is a major challenge faced by both urban and rural IDP sites as they get prolonged, and the rainy season looms in a few months. 

Water and Sanitation issues in the IDP sites
According to rapid surveys conducted earlier in the year, while water for domestic uses and washing, cleaning are available, access to safe drinking water is limited. The large majority of IDPs did not boil water due to dearth of firewood and lack of hygiene awareness and nearly 70 per cent did not have adequate water storage capacities or suitable containers.

Ground water lifted through hand pumps and stored rainwater tanks serve as sources of drinking water for most IDPs. Some locations, including those with new IDPs since October, do not have ground water and those using stored rainwater through this dry season are projected to run out by late January 2013. The rainy season does not set in until May and water shortages anticipated in the interim period have no easy solutions. Desalination and transportation of water are expensive and labour-intensive options. Thus finding alternative sources of drinking water is going to pose significant challenge unless people move back to their places of origin.

The sanitation situation has its own challenges. Temporary latrines being used by large number of people have pits filling up rapidly, roughly in every three months, without drainage and proper waste disposal options. Space constraints, cost and logistics make it impossible to relocate latrines in many sites. About 35 per cent of the people practice open defecation. This is related to behaviour and practices that predate the conflict, as Rakhine traditionally presented higher rates for open defecation compared to other parts of Myanmar.

Once the rain starts, overflow of filled up latrines pits combined with flooding in large open defecation areas risk creating unbearable environmental pollution and spread of water and sanitation related diseases.

Poor or no lighting in IDP sites, latrines and distant open defecation spaces cause security concerns and dignity issues particularly for women and children using latrines in evenings and nights.

Apart from IDP sites, host communities who accommodated IDPs have also been overstretched by prolonged sharing of their facilities including water and sanitation. 

UNICEF and WASH Sector Response
UNICEF and WASH sector partners have focused on distribution of basic hygiene items, provision of latrines and bathing areas, operation of safe solid waste disposal and drainage systems, and construction of safe water supply combined with hygiene promotion. In Sittwe committed WASH partners are covering interventions in the IDP sites, with steady improvement in the WASH situation contributing to increase in the access. 

About 60 per cent of the IDPs have received hygiene kits containing essential items such as bath and laundry soaps, buckets, nail clippers and sanitary napkins. 
UNICEF WASH response is implemented with the Government Department of Rural Development (DRD) and NGOs Action-based Community Development (ABCD), Solidarites International, Consortium of Dutch NGOs (CDN) in Sittwe.  Partnership options are being broadened with more agencies such as the Myanmar Health Assistants’ Association (MHAA) and Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) to cover the new areas in preparation for immediate implementation as soon as IDP locations are identified and approved by the government. The newly affected Townships since October are Kyaukpyu, Pauktaw, Kyauktaw, Rathidaung, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Myebon and Ramree townships.

UNICEF supports hygiene promotion as a priority not only to address the present situation but considering its long term implications.  The available facilities and supplies will not be optimally utilized unless IDPs have the knowledge and motivation to practice good hygiene. Behavioural change interventions focusing on clean water, basic sanitation and good hygiene are essential.

UNICEF is liaising with Child Protection sector to build child friendly latrines for the newly constructed Child Friendly Spaces that are supported by UNICEF. Other agencies are building latrines for people with special needs such as the physically disabled, pregnant women and elderly. Functioning WASH facilities will also be required for temporary learning centres including latrines, hand-washing stations and water supply.

UNICEF’s WASH response in Rakhine State is supported by UNICEF’s regular resources, the UNCentral Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and complemented by support from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) USAID and Swedish SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency).

“Without a process to establish just and lasting peace in Rakhine, the relevance of education and other basic services, and children's ability to protect themselves against violence, abuse and exploitation and preventable illnesses will be undermined” said Bertrand Bainvel.

UNICEF is committed to supporting the health, education, protection rights and prospects of all children in Rakhine State and across Myanmar, based on its humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. UNICEF joins all United Nations agencies’ call for a rapid resolution of the conflict and long term social investment in the Rakhine State.

For more information, please contact:
Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Myanmar
+95-1-375527-32 email:



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