IRC Programs in Myanmar
A program update from the International Rescue Committee's Myanmar country team:
Working in the country since mid-2008, the International Rescue Committee in Myanmar/Burma currently implements a range of emergency response, recovery and longer-term programs to address the humanitarian and development needs of vulnerable populations in Myanmar. IRC is currently implementing programs in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta (Ngapudaw Township), Chin State (Paletwa Township), Shan State (Nam Hsam Township), and Northern Rakhine State (Buthidaung Township).
IRC works with local communities to implement program activities to address community level health, environmental health, livelihoods, and social development needs and priorities. In many of the remote areas IRC works no other forms of external assistance or support is available and IRC’s work is vital in helping communities to address their needs and access essential services.
IRC’s approach to implementation focuses on community participation, capacity building and technology transfer—working with local community members, community based organizations and local NGO partners to plan and implement activities—to promote the sustainability of interventions beyond the scope of specific projects.
Overview of Key Program Sectors:
Health: Natural disasters—such as Cyclone Nargis, Cyclone Giri, flooding—often cause significant damage to an already overstretched health system, leaving a gap health services that link communities with primary health facilities and reduce access to health information and health education messages. To assist in recovery efforts and to support longer term development, IRC uses an integrated approach to address health and environmental health needs, focusing on improving access to health care and clean water, improved hygiene practices and reducing the spread of communicable disease.
IRC’s health program aims to improve community level health services, with a focus on maternal and child and reproductive health. Key program activities to strengthening community health networks including building the capacity and outreach of community health workers to implement essential community level health services, establishing referral mechanisms, and supporting health education activities. In the Delta IRC trained 40 community health workers and 15 auxiliary midwives to deliver essential community level health services in 54 villages and provided them with support and refresher training to improve community health and strengthen referral mechanisms and outreach activities.
IRC’s health program in Southern Chin State, currently implemented in collaboration with two local NGO partners, focuses on strengthening community-based maternal and child health networks and nutrition activities to address acute health needs in the area and improve access to health services. Activities include training and support to community health workers and auxiliary midwives who will provide essential maternal and child health services in remote villages. This is complemented by heath education and outreach, hygiene promotion, nutrition activities, support for referral systems and establishment of mother support groups.
Environmental Health: IRC’s environmental health activities aim to improve the target population’s access to clean drinking water, prevent outbreak of diseases and maintain healthy living conditions. Environmental health activities focus on promotion of health education and hygiene promotion in schools and communities, in conjunction with interventions to improve infrastructure to increase access to quality water and sanitation facilities. This approach combines the benefit of addressing immediate community water and sanitation needs while increasing local knowledge and promoting good health and hygiene practices.
In the Delta in order to improve access to water year-round, IRC has installed 48 community-level rainwater harvesting systems and completed pond protection, construction or enlargement activities for over 70 community ponds, and trained community members on water quality testing and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure. IRC is also working at the household level to increase water storage and improve water quality. Skills transfer techniques are being used to teach communities how to construct their own low cost water storage jars, using locally available materials. Over 10,000 ceramic water filters have been distributed to allow households to safely filter water. Sanitation improvements are being made at both the school and community levels, with completion of school latrines and washrooms in over 15 schools and construction of over 600 household latrines. IRC implemented an extensive package of health education and hygiene promotion activities at the school and community level, with the establishment of School Hygiene Clubs and innovative outreach activities to engage schoolchildren and promote good health and hygiene practices.
As part of an emergency recovery effort in response to flooding in Buthidaung Township in Northern Rakhine State, IRC has initiated water and sanitation activities which focus on improving access to water resources (management, collection, treatment); increasing access to sanitation facilities (latrines and hand washing facilities); and promotion of improved hygiene practices and behaviour (community hygiene promotion activities). Emphasis is being placed on training, capacity building, skills transfer and behaviour change to empower local communities and promote sustainable health and environmental health practices.
Livelihoods: Helping people to restore their livelihoods is a crucial element of sustainable recovery, rehabilitation and long-term development. Providing livelihoods assistance not only enables communities to meet their basic needs, but it also gives them the means to plan their own recovery and has positive cumulative effects on other sectors such as health, education and shelter as people have the necessary money to rebuild their homes and pay for essential items such as medicines, transport to health centers and schools, school books and uniforms.
IRC’s Livelihoods program is working to restore livelihood opportunities and promote economic recovery/development in Myanmar communities. In the Delta to assist in local communities recovery from the impacts of Cyclone Nargis IRC’s programs focused on improving the livelihoods of the most vulnerable through provision of agricultural inputs and training, cash grants and cash for work. IRC distributed cash grants to 2,856 households in 27 villages, enabling recipients to meet their primary recovery needs such as rebuilding their homes, restoring lost productive assets, paying off debt, and covering medical costs.
IRC’s cash-for-work activities allowed communities at large to benefit from the rehabilitation of key market infrastructure (such as roads and jetties) while providing individuals with essential funds and revitalizing local economies and improving access to local services (i.e, hospitals, markets, schools). In addition, IRC supported the recovery of subsistence level fishing through the distribution of new fishing nets and establishment of a ‘demo’ aquaculture pond for training and capacity building of local villagers.
In target communities within Chin and Shan States, IRC is currently implementing activities to improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households through the provision of agricultural inputs and technical training, establishment of agricultural demonstration plots and support to agro-enterprises. In the Nam Hsam area of Shan State, activities focus on the establishment of tea terracing demonstration and other support for improvements in tea production. Current interventions provide the foundation to scale up and target restoration of the production capacity of local community members to promote economic recovery and support strengthened market linkages over the long term.
Social Development (partnership, capacity building and community driven reconstruction): As part of recovery programming in the Delta, IRC worked to actively engage communities in the reconstruction process and promote a long term sustainable approach to recovery and reconstruction through strengthening the capacity of local groups to meet the needs of their own communities. IRC utilized a community based approach involving communities in the design and implementation of community projects. Through a process of community selection and prioritization target communities implemented community driven reconstruction projects—including construction of roads, bridges, school buildings, and community centers.
The premise of this approach is that communities are the decision-makers and implementers of their own recovery. IRC supported communities to develop or strengthen local groups to plan and implement projects for recovery and services. IRC Myanmar will build on the foundation and ‘lessons learned’ from the programs in the Delta to continue implementation of a contextually-appropriate model for community driven development in other areas of Myanmar to address disaster risk reduction, as well as broader development issues.
Specific community development programs are complemented by IRC’s work on partnership and capacity building of local organizations groups to deliver health, water and sanitation, and livelihoods services, improving their programs and internal systems as well as facilitating improved networking and coordination between groups. This approach will ensure that there is a lasting legacy, providing local actors with the necessary skills and capacity to address the needs of their communities.
Updated November 2010