Emergency response to renewed conflict in Northern Kachin StatePublished: Nov 15, 2022 Reading time: 5 minutes
In early February 2022, armed clashes erupted between the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the People's Defense Force (PDF) in Sumprabum and Putao townships in Kachin State. The MAF launched an offensive against the KIA and PDF with helicopter airstrikes. Because of the violence, thousands of people fled to the nearby forests. Almost one month later, no aid groups could access these areas because of the intensified security on the roads—including checkpoints and road closures.
The villagers from the surrounding villages of Sumpyi Yang, N'Tsi Yang, N'Sai Yang, Lung Sha Yang, and Hkin Du Yang fled their homes, fearing an escalation of violence. Half of them fled to the camps in Myitkyina township, some sought shelter at churches and relatives' homes, and others stayed in the forests for almost two months.
Essential emergency responses to newly displaced people
These impacts were harshly felt by families and communities in Sumprabum and Putao townships. Upon hearing about these needs, People in Need (PIN), alongside Serve the World (STW) (a local partner organisation), provided emergency humanitarian responses to those newly displaced people. A project focal person from STW explains the urgent need for humanitarian assistance: "We heard about the renewal of fighting in Sumprabum and Putao townships. The displaced people hiding in the forests were the most desperate and needed humanitarian assistance. STW tried to provide them with dried food. The situation was very tense; checkpoints were everywhere, and the region's military tensions were also high. However, we were able to support people with rations for almost one month, including [by providing] energy biscuits [and] instant noodles, and other nutritious dried food for elderly people and children".
As these townships were beyond the original targets for support, he expressed his gratitude to the donor, "Thanks to Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF), we were able to meet their basic needs. Our assistance directly reached beneficiaries, which was our biggest achievement during this hard time."
Although the fighting has stopped in the area, tensions remain high as troops continue to reside in the villages and across the mountains. Despite the risk that conflict may break out anytime, many villagers returned to their homes in May 2022. Some wanted to start planting paddies for their family in the rainy season. One of the conflict-affected villagers, San Tsawm (name changed), explained why they chose to return to their village, "In May, we decided to return because we did not want to stay in the IDP camp in Myitkyina town. In addition, our paddy fields needed to be prepared for rice planting. However, we never feel safe in the village because troops reside there and in the surrounding mountains. In addition, un-exploded devices can be found in the forest."
She adds, "When we fled in February and March, we could not harvest our plants, so we have no income. We must send our children back to school when the new academic year begins. In Sumpyi Yang village, there is only one middle school. But government teachers do not dare return to school, and our children are still absent." The village tract administrators have hired volunteer teachers to teach the children in those conflict-affected villages.
With the price of gasoline and other commodities increasing in the region, the day-to-day lifestyle of families and communities in Sumprabum and Putao townships is further threatened.
Education for conflict-affected children
One essential need in these townships is access to quality education. Since May 2022, through the support of MHF, PIN has provided 396 student kits and 357 home-based learning materials to conflict-affected Grade 1 to Grade 8 students; we have also provided 148 nursery kits to kindergarten kids from four villages in Sumprabum and Putao townships. Moreover, we have provided ten classroom kits, five teaching kits, and volunteer teacher training in the Teaching in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) curriculum. We distributed educational assistance to 7 preschools and 1 post- and 2 primary schools in Sumparbum and Putao townships.
A kindergarten teacher who received the classroom kits for their school reopening was grateful to PIN and MHF. Lu Hpring (name changed) says, "I am passionate about becoming a kindergarten teacher. I want to promote children's well-being and create a protective, child-friendly environment in our preschool. The children in the villages are distressed due to the fighting in the last months. The parents working now on the farm send their children to us for the whole day. We look after the children with care and love. We sing songs, dance and play together to make them happy".She shares her appreciation, "Thanks to PIN and its donor for supporting our children and us. The children are happy to receive student kits, such as new backpacks, baskets, water bottles, rice bowls, and raincoats".
Parents are happy, too and also express gratitude to PIN and MHF. Htoi Naw (name changed), a father of two, shares his emotions, "As a parent, we have no money to buy the student kit for our children. One of my sons is a Grade 2 student. However, because of the tensions, his school has not reopened, and teachers have not returned yet. After receiving the backpack, book and and pencils, he was eager to go back to the school."
During the distribution of materials, a child approached the PIN team and shared his excitement, "we were hiding in the forests with my three siblings; two of them are twins. We were so afraid and hungry all the time. My mother and father were so afraid of fighting. I heard gunshots and helicopters flying over our heads. I am like a bigger brother; I take care of my younger brothers and sister [and tell them] not to be afraid."
A project focal person from PIN says this emergency response was a great success: "Firstly, the villagers fled to the IDP camps in Myitkyina, then all of them returned after two months. We did our best to reach people directly with our emergency assistance. Sumprabum and Putao townships are not among our targeted townships. That is why we organised the volunteer villagers as an emergency response committee and strengthened their capacity to provide humanitarian assistance to their community."
*The names of certain individuals and locations have been changed for their protection.