Tragedy looms in Myanmar as rain nears

2013-04-19 21:57
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Geneva - Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled communal violence in Myanmar are in danger as the monsoon season looms, the UN's refugee agency said on Friday, warning that operations were desperately underfunded.

Agency spokesperson Adrian Edwards told journalists that a "humanitarian catastrophe" could be on the cards.

"UNHCR is seriously concerned about the risks facing over 60 000 displaced people in flood-prone areas and in makeshift shelters," he told journalists.

"From May to September, the monsoon season is expected to unleash heavy rains and possible cyclones in Rakhine state, where more than 115 000 people remain uprooted after last year's inter-communal violence," he warned.

Violence between Myanmar's Buddhist majority and the Rohingya -described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world - has rocked the western state of Rakhine since June 2012.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800 000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

Moving towards the coast

While thousands of Rohingya has taken to the Indian Ocean to escape the strife - hundreds of whom are thought to have drowned as they try to reach neighbouring nations - the bulk of those who have fled the violence have remained in Myanmar.

Some are camped near the coast, where the risk of tidal surges is high, while others are living in paddy fields or low-lying areas that are set to flood when the rains begin.

"Flooding will exacerbate the already fragile conditions of shelter and sanitation, and increase the risk of water-borne diseases. In addition, several thousand people are still living in tents and flimsy makeshift shelters made of tarpaulin, rice bags and grass that cannot withstand even moderate rains," said Edwards.

UNHCR has been building bamboo-framed longhouses for 14 400 displaced people and distributed tents to house some 28 000, but money is running short.

Donors have provided just 14% of the $71.4m UNHCR needs for its Myanmar operation, Edwards underlined.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  myanmar  |  natural disasters

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