RANGOON — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday announced a record US$30 million budget for work in Burma over the coming year, as the organization plans to spend a full 25 percent more worldwide than it did last year to meet “vastly expanding needs.”
The ICRC told reporters in Rangoon this week that the funds will largely be allocated to projects in Arakan, Kachin and Shan states, where armed and communal conflicts have displaced enormous numbers of civilians in recent years.
“We will focus on conducting humanitarian activities and development of refugee camps in Rakhine [Arakan], Kachin and Shan states in the coming year,” said Moe Myint Aung, a senior public relations officer for the ICRC. He added that the ICRC 2014 budget in Burma was just over $24 million.
The new budget will accommodate several projects including the upgrading medical equipment, streamlining hospitals and increasing access to healthcare in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the three states.
“We will use some of the budget for other conflict [affected] areas if necessary, and we plan to act jointly with all stakeholders of the conflicts,” Moe Myint Aung said.
The ICRC was recently granted permission from the Burmese government to establish sub-offices in Myitkyina, that capital of Kachin State, and Kengtung in eastern Shan State. The office in Myitkyina opened in March 2014, while the new facility in Kengtung is set to open in January 2015.
Michael O’Brien, an ICRC spokesperson, said the ICRC will work closely with the Ministry of Health and the Myanmar Red Cross Society, which already has an established nationwide network.
“We work very closely with the Ministry of Health and the Myanmar Red Cross Society. They have branches all over the country, so we do a lot of our activities through them,” he said.
There are six ICRC offices operating in Burma, located in Hpa-an, Mandalay, Mrauk U, Myitkyina, Sittwe and Rangoon. The ICRC in Burma has a staff of about 300.
An independent association based in Geneva, Switzerland, the ICRC carries out humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas worldwide. The overall 2015 budget for ICRC operations worldwide is $1.8 billion.
The ICRC has been present in Burma since 1986, conducting activities including IDP assistance and detainee welfare, though access to Burma’s prisons is still highly restricted since visits resumed in 2013 after a long hiatus.
The ICRC was among the organizations affected by mob violence in Arakan State earlier this year, when local communities accused foreign aid workers of favoring Muslim communities in the predominantly Buddhist state. All foreign aid workers were temporarily evacuated when locals attacked their offices and warehouses.
Some services have returned to the area—which was devastated by communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists an Rohingya Muslims that began in mid-2012—but only a fraction of former aid to the region has yet been restored.