Cablegate: Rohingya Project Proposal

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 85587

1. Summary: Embassy Rangoon would like to apply for a
$20,000 grant from PRM's Ambassador's Fund for an assessment
of communicable diseases among returning refugees in Burma's
northern Rakhine State. If done immediately, the assessment
can provide the basis for a comprehensive health program in
northern Rakhine State funded by the European Commission
Humanitarian Aid Organization and/or the Federal Republic of
Germany. End Summary.

2. Embassy Rangoon would like to apply for a $20,000 grant
from PRM's Ambassador's Fund for an initial assessment of
communicable diseases in northern Rakhine State. Northern
Rakhine State is one of the least developed regions in Burma
and has twice been the source for major refugee crises (in
1978 and 1991), as Rohingya Muslim residents of the area fled
increasing Burmese Army control and religious discrimination.
Most refugees (220,000 out of 240,000) have since returned
to Burma, but conditions in northern Rakhine State make
recurrence of a refugee crisis as likely as ever. Health
conditions are particularly bad. Recent surveys indicate
that 55 percent of the population of northern Rakhine State
live under survival or critical conditions. Access to
essential health services is limited to urban settings, and
the entire region is plagued by acute and chronic illnesses,
associated with high mortality. Infant mortality (death
within the first year of life) is reported to be an
astounding 141/1000 births. Malaria, tuberculosis, and
intestinal diseases are also rampant, aggravated by a high
degree of malnutrition. Tuberculosis is a particular
problem. According to one survey, 9 percent of all
households in Northern Rakhine State have had at least one
person ill with tuberculosis, and 67 percent of all persons
surveyed recognized the disease as a major health concern.

3. Donor support for the population in the region,
meanwhile, is limited and may decline further, if action is
not taken now. UNHCR, which has orchestrated relief
operations in northern Rakhine State since 1994, is phasing
out. It is scheduled to end repatriation of refugees from
Bangladesh at the end of 2003 and has hinted that it may
close its operations in Burma altogether at the close of

3. Our proposed project will help fill a gap in basic
services for this threatened population. It will do an
assessment of the current situation in Northern Rakhine State
in regard to communicable diseases and provide an initial
package of basic support, pending development of an
integrated health services project. The implementing agency
would be Malteser, a German INGO with extensive experience in
completing health projects and assessments in third world
nations. In Burma, Malteser is already engaged in a $1.2
million malaria control project in the Wa territories of
northern Shan State, with funding from the European
Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).

4. We believe this is an excellent project. If executed as
outlined, it will lay the basis for a comprehensive health
program among one of the most vulnerable popoulations in
Burma. It will also help protect that population from the
neglect and abuse that might follow UNHCR's exit. In
addition, it will facilitate a handoff of operations in
Northern Rakhine State from UNHCR to agencies and INGOs with
a longer development focus.

5. There are risks in the project. The GOB has approved
Malteser's survey in northern Rakhine State, but Malteser
will need to negotiate an MOU with the Ministry of Health,
before it can undertake programs that go beyond the survey.
In addition, funding for the follow-on comprehensive health
program is not totally in place. While Maltheser has
received solid indications of support from both ECHO and the
FRG, final commitments will only be made once the survey is
completed and the need has been fully documented. Finally,
this project will be most effective, if it is done
immediately, before the close of June 2003. If the survey is
delayed beyond that, it may not be possible to begin delivery
of basic health services during the current rainy season.
This is not necessarily a fatal problem, but it does put a
premium on early approval of the project.

7. On balance, we believe the proposal merits funding. It's
cheap; it promises to be effective, and it may catalyze donor
funding for a population we care about for both humanitarian
and human rights reasons. It will also be executed by an
excellent INGO with proven record of success. Finally, as
U.S. law requires, Maltheser's involvement will ensure that
none of the funds pass to or through the government here.

8. We have faxed a copy of the full proposal to PRM and will
be happy to follow up on any questions PRM may have.

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