A displaced woman living in a camp in Kachin State, Myanmar, washes her hands at a communal handwashing station during the COVID-19 pandemic while another waits her turn.  Photo- Hkun Li

Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis: A Year of Challenge & Hope

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all.  At the same time, it has also exposed and aggravated deep inequalities across communities, in Myanmar and around the world. What is clear as we enter the final weeks of the year is that the crisis will continue to have disproportionately serious impacts for those already experiencing marginalization and poverty in Myanmar. For the Oxfam in Myanmar team, 2020 has represented a year of challenge and of hope as we’ve seen the devastating impacts of the crisis first hand while also seeing the true strength and resilience of our civil society partners and the communities we work with, from Mon, to northern Shan to Rakhine to Kachin.

Together with our partners, the Oxfam in Myanmar team has been responding to the COVID-19 crisis since February 2020. At that time, we started to work with partners in displacement camps in Kachin to provide necessary hygiene items to displaced communities and to share reliable, accessible information about the virus.

As one our of colleagues, Zinwa Zau Lawn from KBC put it: "Crowded communities, including those living in displacement camps, are the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. Families in the camps struggle to ensure social distancing, for instance, when shelters are so close together and people share latrines and water points. As frontline workers we see the risks the communities face and we also know that we are at higher risk of contracting the virus, but we are prepared for this given our commitment to working with vulnerable communities."

Since then, we’ve also initiated response efforts in confined camps in Rakhine, where again, overcrowded shelters and a lack of basics mean that displaced people are struggling to take needed preventative measures.

As Oxfam’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Coordinator, Yin Yin Khine, describes it, “the displaced communities we work with in camps have particular vulnerabilities to COVID and also more limited access to health care so we knew we needed to respond quickly. We scaled up our support for clean water and conducted hygiene promotion sessions with community members in local languages, emphasizing good handwashing techniques and the importance of social distancing. We also provided hygiene supplies, including soap, to households and quarantine centers and distributed Personal Protective Equipment to staff and volunteers.”   

To date, Oxfam and partners have built an additional 1,000 handwashing stations in IDP camps across the country, distributed 97,000 bars of soap and hygiene items and trained 75,500 people in how to share COVID-19 preventative information. We have directly reached 249,165 people across 4 States and Regions with much needed assistance and support as part of our COVID-19 response.

With Oxfam’s ongoing focus on women’s empowerment, we’ve also worked closely with women leaders and women’s groups in villages and displacement camps as part of our response. Together with our partner Yang Chi Thit, we’ve trained women leaders to share reliable COVID-19 prevention information and dispel rumours, for instance, in their communities.  In collaboration with Plan International we’re launching a telephone messaging system to educate women and men about the increased risks of gender based violence during the pandemic. As Yaung Chi Thit’s Area Coordinator, Ko Than Tin, stated: “We’ve seen women leaders really mobilizing in communities across the country during this crisis, from making masks, to organizing support for quarantine centers to leading the response in villages and towns. It’s a moment where the strength of women leaders in Myanmar has really been highlighted and I hope it’s something we can continue to recognize and celebrate.”

Together with Yaung Chi Thit, we’re conducting a study to further understand the gendered impacts of COVID-19 in Rakhine and what specific priorities of women and girls must be taken into account as part of response and recovery efforts. In Kachin, we have just finished a survey with communities that confirmed the challenges poor, displaced households face during the COVID-19 pandemic: half of women’s economic activities have stopped, households are faced with significantly reduced levels of income, and families are resorting to increasing levels of debt and eating less as a means to get by. These findings feed into our programming and also inform our discussions with decision-makers, with the aim of bringing forward evidence to support robust policy-making with the COVID response and recovery efforts.

In the words of our Country Director, Rajan Khosla, “the needs in communities have never been greater and we, as a humanitarian and development organization, have never had to be more creative and resourceful with our work. We’ve relied on the trusting relationships and strong partnerships we have to quickly deliver needed supports to marginalized communities while working to support their rights and resilience over the long term. While it’s been such a hard year for so many, I feel incredibly inspired by the leadership and commitment we’re seeing in communities and across the country in supporting the most vulnerable during this crisis.”


Quick Facts About Oxfam in Myanmar’s COVID-19 response to date include that, together with our partners, we:

  • constructed an additional 1,000 handwashing stations in IDP camps across the country;
  • distributed 97,000 bars of soap and hygiene items;
  • trained 75,500 people in how to share COVID-19 preventative information;
  • directly reached 249,165 people across 4 States and Regions with much needed assistance;
  • indirectly reached 2.4 million people with COVID-19 related information and prevention messaging via social media.