Covid-19 and Escalating Conflict: Three Priorities for Rakhine State
Myanmar’s Rakhine State has specific, complicated challenges—an ongoing health crisis alongside pre-existing humanitarian crises, a complex conflict landscape with violence that escalated even during the pandemic, and restrictions on humanitarian support, freedom of movement, and internet access. The conflict between government military forces and the Arakan Army is evolving, and the stakes are high.
Throughout much of 2020, both sides appeared ready for escalation, which would worsen the humanitarian challenges already facing many people in the state. Toward the end of the year, there have been signs of some interest in negotiation. Historically, international humanitarian and health workers on the ground have operated through partnerships with local groups because of long-standing restrictions preventing them from direct implementation. In this complex setting, international responses to reduce the impact of Covid-19 require flexibility and a nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities of working with local support networks. Humanitarian actors should prioritize understanding the conditions in areas of strong Arakan Army influence. Promoters of peace must also keep their eye on the bigger picture. The situation in Rakhine State is linked to other conflicts and crises, and the failure to find a political way forward would be a major concern.