One Dead in Kachin IDP Camp Fire

By Yen Saning 21 March 2014

RANGOON — An accidental fire at one of the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State claimed the life of a 13-year-old girl on Thursday, according to a local aid group that oversees the camp.

The tent that caught fire was sheltering a family of six, and was completely destroyed by the blaze early on Thursday, the humanitarian NGO Wunpawng Ningtoi (WPN), which administers the camp, said in a posting on the Facebook page of a well-known Kachin activist. Neighboring residents of the camp were able to prevent the fire from spreading to other tents in the vicinity.

The mother, a widow, and her youngest son, a 3-year-old, suffered serious burn injuries and were referred to the nearest hospital in China.

“Recently, the weather situation is bad in here very windy, dusty and they should not stay on the emergency tent for long term,” Mary Tawm, head of the humanitarian NGO Wunpawng Ningtoi (WPN) that administers the camp, wrote on Facebook.

The Bum Tsit Pa camp No. 2 is located about two hours’ drive from the town of Mai Ja Yang along the China-Burma border. The camp residents’ tent-dwelling existence stands in contrast to other IDP camps in northern Burma, whose inhabitants live in more permanent structures made of plywood and sheet metal.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, provides the tarpaulin tents to the displaced population, which does not have more permanent shelter because it moved from a different IDP camp last year amid clashes between Kachin rebels and government troops in the Mai Ja Yang region.

Fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the central government has plagued the region since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire agreement between the two sides broke down. About 100,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict.

“The camp has been getting hot because summer has arrived. We have no idea what the rainy season will bring,” said Pan Htoi Awng, a secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization’s IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee (IRRC), who was helping to take care of the camp when The Irrawaddy visited earlier this month.

Though a separate, stand-alone kitchen was built for the IDPs, some families have set up small kitchen facilities next to their tents.

Pan Htoi Awng told The Irrawaddy that obtaining potable water, adequate shelter and lighting for the IDPs were the biggest concerns at the camp.

“We still need 150 solar panels, though we have had some donations,” he said.

A solar panel costs 30,000 kyats (US$30), and the photovoltaic power sources provide an essential source of lighting for the camp, where candles and fires are not permitted inside the highly flammable tents.

The IRRC has already set up a new tent for the affected family and essential supplies are being provided by WPN.