Myanmar: what's happening?

  • In the early hours of 1st February 2021, the Military Armed Forces detained senior members of the ruling party in Myanmar and declared a state of emergency.
  • This is a very uncertain and turbulent time for Myanmar and we are extremely concerned for the lives and safety of the most vulnerable, including those who have been affected by conflict.
  • The IRC has temporarily suspended most activities while we assess the situation, but we hope to resume delivering lifesaving aid as soon as it is safe to do so.
Read our latest statement

Country facts

  • Population: 53.2 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 1.7 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 148 of 188

IRC response

  • Started work in Myanmar: 2008

Crisis briefing

Myanmar, located in Southeast Asia, has for decades been ruled by a military regime and pummeled by natural disasters. The IRC provides health care, water and sanitation services, and community support to help people rebuild their lives.

What caused the current crisis in Myanmar?

A half-century of military control, extreme poverty and frequent natural disasters has left Myanmar (also known as Burma) in a state of crisis. The country hosts some of the most isolated and vulnerable populations in the world.

Myanmar has struggled to recover from the devastation of Cyclone Komen, which displaced 1.7 million people in 2015. Meanwhile, 100,000 Muslims forced to flee deadly persecution escaped by boat, many of whom tragically drowned at sea. Renewed fighting in the northern Shan State has forced an estimated 3,500 people–mostly women and children–from their homes.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Myanmar?

In 2011, Myanmar began the process of political, social and economic reform. This led to more freedoms, decreased oppression and increased foreign investment. Despite these gains, many people continue to require lifesaving support—especially those living in rural communities.

Healthcare services are alarmingly under-resourced and religious tensions are still common. The United Nations estimates that continued instability has displaced another 375,000 people within Myanmar and pushed thousands more into neighboring Thailand, where more than 140,000 Burmese refugees live in camps along the border. 

What is happening in Myanmar's Rakhine State?

Since 2012, clashes between Buddhists and minority Muslims in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Nearly 100,000 are still living in camps on the outskirts of Sittwe, the state capital. The majority are Muslims who call themselves Rohingya.

The latest outbreak of violence, which followed deadly attacks by militants on police stations on August 25, 2017 has resulted in at least 400 deaths and pushed thousands of frightened refugees into neighboring Bangladesh each day.

The IRC and other international aid organizations working in Rakhine have strongly condemned the ongoing violence and called on the government to enable humanitarian access to communities caught in the conflict. In order to deliver lifesaving services, aid workers must be allowed to move freely and safely to conflict-affected communities.

As one of the largest health care providers in Rakhine, the IRC is ready to scale up our emergency response, including lifesaving primary and reproductive health care, clean water and sanitation services, and protection of women and girls. 

Coordinating with government health authorities and other aid groups, we will provide health care to over 3,000 people in the Sittwe area. We are also supplying shelter supplies, including tarps and rope, and soap and other personal hygiene supplies to a local nonprofit in Rathedaung—a township that has been cut off from aid—for distribution to displaced families.

We are also monitoring the humanitarian situation in Bangladesh, which now hosts some 123,000 refugees who have fled the surge in violence in Rakhine.

How does the IRC help in Myanmar?

Our mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to recover and gain control of their futures.

The IRC began work in Myanmar in 2008, providing humanitarian relief in response to Cyclone Nargis. Since then, the IRC has become a valued partner of both government and local aid organizations. We provide health care, water and sanitation services, career training, and support for community development projects.

As the country struggles to recover from ongoing conflict and natural disasters, we are focusing on some of the most remote areas of the country, including Rakhine, Chin and Shan states. The IRC:

  • trains community health workers and supports mobile clinics to improve access to health care;
  • partners with local communities to increase access to clean drinking water, improve sanitation facilities and prevent the outbreak of disease;
  • promotes economic recovery by teaching farmers modern agricultural techniques and technology;
  • empowers communities to identify their own development needs and design their own recovery projects, such as new schools and health centers;
  • operates women and girls’ centers that provide skills training and support to survivors of violence;
  • aids nearly 140,000 refugees from Myanmar in nine camps along the Thailand border.
What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s work in Myanmar is more crucial than ever as people struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of natural disaster and internal conflict.

We pledge to put the needs of the most vulnerable—women, children and the elderly—at the forefront of our efforts, and to achieve measurable improvements in decision-making power, safety and health.

We will continue to extend our reach to regions that have received little or no aid, and we will also work toward equal outcomes for women and girls in all of our programs.

IRC teams and partners currently assist 462,000 people in Myanmar with lifesaving support. Over the next several years we will focus on the following areas:


The IRC will use its expertise in social programs to improve people’s ability to make their own health, education and livelihoods choices. We will also collaborate with local governments along the Thailand border to increase access, information and support to refugees.


The IRC will provide support and referral services to victims of violence. We will also create safe spaces where conflicting groups and individuals can talk through their problems.


The IRC will continue to help mobile health teams reach remote areas. We will also work with the government of Myanmar to strengthen the quality of local health care services.

Focusing on maternal health, we will work to ensure that women and adolescent girls are protected from unintended pregnancy and treated for complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC Myanmar strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.