Providing safe shelter in Myanmar

Tonje Hisdal Johannessen|Published 16. Jun 2016
More than 1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar. NORCAP expert Jade Chakowa makes sure internally displaced people have safe places to live and the basic services they need to survive.

Myanmar has experienced internal conflicts for more than six decades. The end of 2015 included landmark elections and a national ceasefire agreement, but several groups are still in conflict with the government. Myanmar is also one of the most disaster prone countries in Asia, and flooding, landslides and heavy storms continue to increase in frequency.

NORCAP expert Jade Chakowa is deployed to UNCHR Myanmar as a coordinator for the shelter, non-food items (NFI) and camp management and camp coordination (CCCM) activities in Kachin and Northern Shan State. She is based in Kachin state, but works closely with the national cluster team based in Yangon .

''The goal of my deployment is to coordinate shelter, NFI and CCCM-related activities and to ensure that UNHCR meets its responsibilities as the cluster lead agency within these areas in Myanmar'' she says.

Part of Jade's work includes liaising with partners and providing technical guidance and support to minimise gaps and duplication in response to shelter, NFI and CCCM needs. ''My task is to coordinate a timely and appropriate response in emergencies and for new displacement caused by conflict. This includes organising coordination meetings and making sure the data and information we use is updated'' she explains.

Responding to continuous change

Jade says working in the field means every day is different. ''The dynamics of the conflict, the number of people displaced, the weather and the issues that we need to respond to, are continuously changing and this also determines what I need to prioritise each day''

In April this year, two NORCAP Head Office staff visited Jade in Myanmar. During the field visit, heavy rainfall and storms damaged several areas in the Kachin State. The storms caused severe damage to a number of settlements and camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area.

''Within only a couple of days, 217 housing shelters were damaged and 494 were in need of repair'' Jade says.

NORCAP expert Jade Chakowa, working with shelter and camp management activities in Myanmar. (Photo: NORCAP/Tonje Johannessen)
Read caption NORCAP expert Jade Chakowa, working with the shelter and camp management and camp coordination cluster in Myanmar. (Photo: NORCAP/Tonje Johannessen)

Working together

One of the things that has surprised Jade the most during this mission, is the strength of collaboration between different actors working together to respond to the humanitarian challenges in the country, both local and international. 

In Myitkyina, the government, local actors and national and international organisations work together to help people displaced by conflict and natural disasters. This includes cooperating providing shelters and ensure the provision of services in camps and camp-like settings.

''As a humanitarian worker, it is truly impressive to see what is being done by the local actors. They are the drivers of the response and do their outmost to support affected people. They are the ones working on the front lines and enabling people to help themselves. I feel lucky to be able to work together with them,'' she declares.

New opportunities

However, the need for support and a coordinated response is still very present. ''Affected communities still need more support to rebuild their livelihoods, and there is no doubt that we need to continue the work being done'', Jade states.

Moving forward, she is hopeful as they have seen a new sense of openness and willingness in the different actors in Myanmar.

''The recent change in the political situation has a lot of uncertainty to it, but it also creates many new opportunities to provide support and protection for affected people'' Jade explains.

''Many of the people I meet, who are internally displaced, have a strong desire to return to their homes, but they cannot go as it is not safe.''

''They work incredibly hard to build a better life for themselves in the camps, with support from UN agencies and other actors on both international, national and local level. Still, they hope to one day be able to return to their villages, their homes and their families,'' she says.

The NORCAP community

The mission to Myanmar is Jade's first humanitarian mission and her first deployment for NORCAP. ''Being part of NORCAP, you are not just part of a roster; you are part of a community that supports and understands you." 

''The roster mechanism allows for a lot of flexibility, it provides good support during deployment and you are part of a great team of experts from all over the world'' Jade says.

Myanmar facts


1 million

in need of humanitarian assistance



people live in camps



people affected by floods and landslides