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UNICEF calls for action on water, sanitation in Rakhine State

People living in and near the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) sites in Rakhine State are facing health risks due to restricted access to safe potable water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, according to a statement by UNICEF on December 21.

IDPs at Taung Paw Camp in Rakhine State (PHOTO: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office / flickr)
IDPs at Taung Paw Camp in Rakhine State (PHOTO: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office / flickr) 
UNICEF, the UN’s Children’s Fund, said that only half of the 115,000 IDPs in the strife-torn region have access to what is considered safe water. It added that drainage and solid waste disposal remain major challenges ahead of the rainy seasons in a few months. Vulnerable groups, including children, are at greatest risk of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.

“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, the UNICEF representative in Burma [Myanmar].

Only 5 percent of IDPs live in urban sites equipped with better accessibility and coverage, the report said. The rest inhabited less accessible locations which have worse sanitation conditions because of a shortage of latrines and poor hygiene posed by congested living areas. About 70 percent have access to some sanitation and 60 percent have access to basic sanitary supplies, UNICEF said. However, nearly 70 percent have no access to adequate water storage capacities or suitable containers.

The majority of IPDs do not boil water due to a shortage of firewood and a lack of hygiene awareness, according to previous UN surveys.

Some locations—including those with the latest arrivals of IDPs since further sectarian violence in October—do not have ground water. Those using stored rainwater throughout this dry season are projected to run out by late January 2013, the UN agency said.

Without drainage and proper waste disposal options, once the rain starts—usually before May—any overflow from latrine pits combined with flooding will risk creating “unbearable environmental pollution” and the spread of water and sanitation-related diseases, the report said.

UNICEF said that the agency and its partners have focused on: the distribution of basic hygiene items; the provision of latrines and bathing areas; the operation of safe solid waste disposal and drainage systems; and construction of safe water supply projects; and the promotion of hygiene awareness. About 60 percent of IDPs have received hygiene kits containing essential items, it said.

However, the UNICEF representative said, “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.”

For more background:
Last Updated ( Monday, 24 December 2012 14:01 )  

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