Communities across northern Myanmar have been devastated by a decades-long conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government of Myanmar. Since the country gained its independence from the British in 1948, the Kachin people–an umbrella term used for the confederation of six ethnic groups who live in the Kachin state—have sought equality and autonomy in the Kachin state. Following the most recent large-scale outbreak of violence in 2011, around 100,000 people were internally displaced and residing in poorly-equipped camps. At the end of 2018, and at the behest of many of the internally displaced persons, the Myanmar Government announced that it would be closing the camps and relocating displaced populations in predetermined locations across Kachin and Northern Shan.
Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (KMSS), a faith-based social network that has been a major humanitarian responder to the conflict, will lead the process of supporting the displaced populations as they move into new neighbourhoods and build their own homes. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the US-arm of the CARITAS movement and one of the world’s leading international humanitarian organisations, is looking to support KMSS by building their technical capacity to respond to the needs of the uprooted families and communities in Kachin and Northern Shan.
The BRE Trust are supporting this capacity-building programme through the implementation of QSAND as a monitoring and evaluation framework for the project. QSAND will support the assessment of the sustainability and social inclusivity of the intervention.
A Unique Sustainability Pilot Project
CRS has acknowledged the uniqueness of this programme. As part of CRS’ wider realignment of its 2030 strategy, it is aiming for a “transformational shift from a focus on Shelter and Settlement –to an integrated Homes and Communities approach, the foundation around which life is centered.” The capacity building project in Myanmar will be a pilot project that builds upon CRS experience and success in community- and household-led approaches, providing social and technical support allowing the community to lead their own recovery.
KMSS staff are often from the communities in which they serve, and as a national organisation with several local chapters, institutional capacity building within KMSS has the potential to have far-reaching implications for disaster and conflict response across Myanmar. CRS regional offices aim to take the learnings from this project and apply them to international programming, should the intervention be successful.
Putting the Community in the Driving Seat
The internally displaced populations will lead the construction of their new homes, and of their new lives. CRS and KMSS aim to trial a new approach to cash and market-based interventions, providing families with a predetermined amount of resources to buy their own materials and labour, enabling them to make their own choices about the new houses in which they will be living. Technical guidance will be provided by KMSS, and individuals from the host population will be encouraged to provide their own expertise and support for the construction of new homes. This will help to integrate the internally displaced populations into the local community and economy, and strengthen ties across the populations.
A communal cooking space in the current camp in Bhamo. Photo Credit: CRS
Overcoming Local Tensions
Many of the internally displaced populations have been stuck in camps for nine years or more. During that time, it has been difficult for most to build livelihoods, such as land for growing food, or to find other meaningful forms of work. Because of limited opportunities, the displaced communities have relied upon external assistance, creating a dependency on this support. Whilst keen to find livelihood opportunities, barriers still exist, such as skills and acceptance of the local population. CRS and KMSS are hoping that, by encouraging host communities and internally displaced populations to work together in building their homes, relationships can develop and stereotypes can be overcome. This must be achieved in order for the displaced families to be accepted in their new homes, and for the intervention to be considered a success.
Lessons Learnt from Previous Shelter Solutions
Previously, shelters and houses have been designed and constructed using contractors for the internally displaced populations. While this met their basic shelter and housing needs, the approach lacked the input and participation of the community and families, which would have created a greater sense of ownership—including of designs that would best suit their individual preferences. The desire of an individual to want to live in a house is key to making it a home. With these families having been displaced from their communities and networks, and living in temporary shelters for almost a decade, providing housing that is beneficial to the occupant is of great importance. CRS and KMSS want to ensure they can give the displaced families and communities as much choice as possible in their housing, whilst still remaining within tight budgetary constraints, and allowing for sustainable sourcing of materials and building methods that are suitable for the surrounding environmental context.
What role will QSAND play in the project?
QSAND will act as a benchmark and guide for the monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (MEAL) programming of the project. BRE Trust are providing financial support to CRS to employ a full-time MEAL officer who will ensure that standards are met in the intervention. BRE will work alongside CRS to translate the relevant QSAND issues and assessment points into guidance tools for assessment that can be used by KMSS. We will help to ensure that sustainability standards are met in material procurement and building methods, and also help to monitor the social impacts of the community-led methodology.
What will QSAND gain from supporting the project?
Where QSAND can support KMSS in identifying certain technical issues to measure and evaluate, this unique intervention can help to strengthen the social issues within QSAND. The way that communities view their surrounding environment is often more important to the success of a project than the physical aspects of the built environment. Creating sustainable and resilient buildings and settlements is only effective if social and economic needs are met.
The localisation element of the project will also help to better define how QSAND can be used to support capacity building and skills development within affected communities. This approach represents an opportunity to redefine how QSAND can be effectively utilised by non-technical people rebuilding their own homes.
This will also be the first time that QSAND will be used in response to a conflict situation rather than a disaster, hopefully allowing for a widening of the scope of the framework moving forward.
Keep an eye out for more information from Myanmar as the project develops.