This April Update tracks a set of indicators drawn from the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan, published by CASS on 9 April, to document updates and consider implications for the humanitarian response. That scenario plan considered the trajectory of armed conflict in Rakhine State before nationwide elections expected for November 2020, and anticipated the impact of armed conflict for communities and the humanitarian response in western Myanmar, with the objective of facilitating forward-looking programming for humanitarian responders. Please see the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan for the full consideration of scenarios, conflict trajectories and humanitarian impacts.
The escalation of armed conflict in Rakhine State and southern Chin State aligns with the first scenario outlined in the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan. Armed conflict has frequently entered urban areas, while Myanmar security forces have further securitised the state capital Sittwe. Displacement has continued to rise, there is no dialogue forming between belligerents, and humanitarian access remains limited for international actors and increasingly so for informal local responders also. The Arakan Army, however, has not attempted to open new fronts of conflict in the south of Rakhine State. While occasional attacks on Tatmadaw targets have continued in the south of Rakhine State (an attack in the southernmost township of Gwa was reported, though denied by the Arakan Army), large-scale clashes as seen further north have not been seen in the south of the state. There have also been few indications of the fragmentation of conflict in Paletwa Township. However, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has increased its activity in Maungdaw Township in the north of Rakhine State – sparking concerns of a response from security forces.
The Rakhine State Government reports that 69,186 people were displaced in Rakhine State as of 6 April; an increase of 8,483 people since the middle of March. Humanitarian partners also report that as of 10 April, 8,196 people were displaced in Paletwa Township, southern Chin State; an increase of 4,525 people since mid-March. Rakhine Ethnic Congress figures published on 1 May also indicate an increased number of displaced persons in Ponnagyun Township, following heavy clashes there in early April.
Table 1: Rakhine State government displacement figures
|Township||16 March1||6 April2|
Table 1: Rakhine State government displacement figures
|17 March||10 April|
Table 3. Rakhine Ethnic Congress displacement figures
|Township||1 April4||1 May5|
Humanitarian access remains heavily restricted in Rakhine and southern Chin states. This month, new blockades of the transportation of food to certain areas emerged, together with new informal restrictions on local humanitarian responders.
There is no indication of a dialogue emerging between the Arakan Army, government and Tatmadaw. Civilian casualties, including the death of a World Health Organisation staff member, have continued to prompt the two belligerents to trade blame in heated public statements.
There have been no reports of Chinese intervention to encourage the Tatmadaw, Arakan Army or the civilian government to enter dialogue. Talks encouraged by China in 2019 led to little progress, and the Chinese authorities remain preoccupied with the COVID-19 crisis domestically.
As noted in the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan, clashes in urban areas are more likely as the conflict expands in intensity and geographic scope before elections in November. Armed clashes in and around urban areas, together with the further securitisation of the state capital Sittwe, were seen this month.
There have been no notable improvements in the living conditions for Rohingya in Rakhine State and southern Chin State. They continue to face heavy restrictions on movement, livelihoods and access to basic health or education. With many Rohingya villages now set in the middle of active conflict zones, civilian casualties continue to be reported while communities are unable to flee the violence.
While occasional attacks on Tatmadaw targets have continued in the south of Rakhine State, large-scale clashes as seen further north have not been seen in the south of the state.
There have been no further reports alleging the mobilisation of any militia group in southern Chin State to confront the Arakan Army. Reports of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army increasing its activity in northern Rakhine State continue to emerge.
There remain no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rakhine State and 149 cases in total confirmed nationwide after only some 7,000 tests. Concerns have been growing locally about the state’s capacity to manage an outbreak. A medical officer in Sittwe told Frontier Myanmar that the Sittwe general hospital can only manage about 20 confirmed cases in its isolation ward, and that only about six patients could be held in its intensive care unit.
There have been no public preparations for elections in Rakhine or southern Chin states. As noted in the Rakhine State and Southern Chin State Scenario Plan, the Union Election Commission would have to access areas in August by the latest to finalise preparations before November. Many communities in Rakhine State continue to express little interest in elections, while Rohingya communities in particular report hearing no information about forthcoming elections at all.
The monsoon season can be expected to be truly underway by early June. As such, both the Arakan Army and Tatmadaw will attempt to consolidate gains made before movement becomes hindered by wet weather. While armed conflict has historically been known to reduce in intensity during the monsoon season, this cannot be guaranteed in this case. In 2019, armed clashes continued through the year despite conditions.
Few openings in official travel permissions can be expected by international humanitarian agencies as long as armed clashes continue. As such, there is a need to pre-position food aid where possible in anticipation of the spread of armed conflict and barriers to movement in the rainy season.
Close attention needs to be paid to the large numbers of civilian casualties reported since early February. Such numbers are highly alarming and concerns should be raised to military and civilian government interlocutors whenever possible.
Both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 need to be taken into account in any response. The most vulnerable of urban and rural populations will be hit hardest by an economic impact, and will need support. The impact of blocked market supply routes from Yangon, bottlenecked in Minbya due to armed clashes, will already be impacting informal workers in markets in Sittwe and other urban hubs. Humanitarian agencies can engage with the government to lessen the economic impact on the urban poor, who often have no safety net.
Finally, the pre-monsoon season also brings the risk of tropical storms and cyclones. The development of the year’s first tropical storm in the Bay of Bengal in late April and early May should be notice to all humanitarian responders to prepare for the monsoon season, increased presence of disease and potential environmental disaster.