Myanmar: Landmine/UXO action Providing a safe and livable environment - even for persons with disabilities

Myanmar (Burma) is said to be one of the world's most heavily mine-contaminated countries.
In Karen state, which is in a particularly serious situation, Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan) opened its office in Hpa-An, the state capital, in July 2013. Since then, we have been providing support for mine victims and developing teaching materials for landmine risk education.
This report is provided to you by Yoshio NAKAGAWA, from our Hpa-An office.

We have paved roads and reconstructed water tanks in Thit Sar Aye Myaing village in Karen state, Myanmar, where many landmine victims live. At the completion ceremony, residents celebrated in colorful ethnic costumes. Yumiko KAKUDA, one of our staff members, is pictured second from the left in the front row. (April 27, 2014)

Little action has been taken to stop the serious damage being caused

In Myanmar (Burma), many landmines were laid during the long-term conflicts involving ethnic minorities demanding their independence/self-governance, or in religious confrontations. Most of these landmines have not been removed. During the 14 years from 1999 to 2012, the number of total reported casualties has reached 3,349. However, the actual number of casualties is believed to be much higher than that.
Karen state, in which AAR Japan is conducting its activities, is the most seriously mine-affected area in Myanmar. In 2012, 106 landmine casualties were reported, and more than half of these occurred in Karen state. The state suffers serious damages and injuries, however, little action has been taken to stop this. Mine risk education and assistance have been provided to victims in other states in Myanmar, but few in Karen state have received any kind of help. AAR Japan started its assistance activities in Thit Sar Aye Myaing village (where the population is about 1,500) in Karen state, where 94 landmine victims live.

A large, deep ditch cuts off the main road of Thit Sar Aye Myaing village, Karen state. Residents are forced to cross to the other side by using a log. (December 2013)

A water tank that supplies water to the village for domestic use. It is exposed to rain and its surroundings are wasteland, posing danger to the residents. (December 2013)

Improving the living environment for victims in the village

In Thit Sar Aye Myaing village, roads and water supply facilities have not been developed. This causes great inconvenience to people, especially those with mobility or visual impairments, including landmine victims.
The main road running through the center of the village was unpaved and countless stones and rocks of all sizes were scattered all over the surface. In addition, heavy rain during the rainy season had created a ditch 2 meters wide and more than 1 meter deep. Residents had placed a thin log across the ditch, using it as a bridge, but it was very dangerous not only for persons with disabilities, but also for children.
Residents fetch water for cooking, washing clothes, and bathing from 29 water tanks in the village. However, there were no roofs over these tanks, and stones and rocks were lying around them. These conditions made the areas unsanitary and dangerous. Because there had been a shortage of tanks in relation to the number of households, people could not bathe enough and were prone to skin diseases or infectious diseases.
In response, AAR Japan repaired/installed water tanks, paved the main road, and built bridges, all of which the residents had desperately needed.

Most of the landmine victims use crutches or prosthetics.

We paved the main road with concrete and constructed a bridge. (March 2014)

We built a roof over the water tanks, and renovated the surrounding areas. The tanks can now be safely accessed by the residents, including persons with disabilities. (March 2014)

In addition to paving the main road, which is about 900 meters long, with concrete, we have built bridges over 3 ditches, where only logs were placed before. We have built roofs and fixed handrails to the 32 newly repaired/installed water tanks, and removed the stones and rocks around them. A suitable environment for children and persons with disabilities to walk around in the village and to get water safely has been achieved. AAR Japan also established a Water Management Committee, spearheaded by the residents themselves, to manage and maintain the improved water tanks.

"What can we do to keep the water tanks clean?" A question asked during a discussion among the Water Management Committee. Landmine victims, who tend to have to spend their entire day at home, have now become members of the committee and actively take part in the talks. (February 14, 2014)

Many words of thanks came in at the completion ceremony

At the completion ceremony held on April 27, 2014, the State Minister of Karen state, the managing staff of the related state bureau, and many residents were in attendance. U Zaw Min, the State Minister, encouraged the residents by saying: “Thanks to AAR Japan's support, Thit Sar Aye Myaing village has become easier even for landmine victims to live. I would like for all of you to make use of your abilities in your work, regardless of your disabilities." The residents said: “Thanks to the roofs over the water tanks, the water is now much cleaner than before. Now we can bathe and wash clothes comfortably. Thank you."
"The road is now paved, and the bridges are new. It has become easier especially for persons with walking disabilities and children to get around. Many people used to fall over on the road before. As the rainy season is soon coming, we appreciate that we can now walk safely." Many more words of appreciation came in.

The Karen State Minister gives encouraging words to landmine victims. (April 27, 2014)

We will improve the sanitary environment

We are currently planning to renovate public lavatories, of which there are not enough in Thit Sar Aye Myaing village, and repair waterworks to improve sanitation. We aim to provide a friendly living environment for everyone, with or without disabilities, by installing barrier-free design in these public lavatories.
In Karen state, a peace process between ethnic minority groups and the government has been progressing. However, there is a possibility that conflicts could break out again. Because of the unsafe situation and political uncertainty, AAR Japan's area of activity and assistance has to be limited. But even in these circumstances, we will conduct activities to provide the necessary support, taking a neutral position in politics.

Our village has become a much better place to live in. Thank you.

"Seventeen years ago, when I was 29, I happened to step on a landmine in Kwin village, Karen state. I have lost my left leg below the knee. I have lived in Thit Sar Aye Myaing village with my wife and five children since 2012. I am thankful that our village has been gradually improved and it has become a much better place to live in. As I became a member of the Water Management Committee, I want to tell children and the younger generation of the importance of clear water and keeping it clean. Also, I want to pass down to the younger generation my experience as a landmine victim and the horrors of landmines."

Yuichiro YAMAMOTO from AAR Japan's Tokyo office (left) and Saw Yoshu from our Hpa-An office listen to U Kyi Aye's (center) story. (April 10, 2014)

Reported by: Yoshio Nakagawa: Hpa-An office, Myanmar
After graduating from university, Yoshio worked for the Japanese Red Cross Society for about five years. Following that he joined AAR, hoping to work at a site of international cooperation. From March 2011 through to September 2013, Yoshio lived and worked in Tadzhikistan, and has been working at Hpa-An office, Myanmar, since October 2013.“I want to do the best I can do now using my experience and what I'm learning every day." He likes jogging and is originally from Kanagawa.