Myanmar: NGOs Fill In Where UN, U.S. Can't Go
One World, News Report, Alison Raphael Posted: May 16, 2008
WASHINGTON, May 15 (OneWorld) - As UN estimates of the number of Burmese affected by Cyclone Nargis rose from 1.5 to 2.5 million and the United States and United Nations continued to wrangle with Myanmar's rulers over visas for aid workers, Atlanta-based CARE received a $1 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver humanitarian relief in Myanmar.
CARE has a strong on-the-ground team in Myanmar. Their well-established presence will allow them to continue to deliver humanitarian aid to areas that would otherwise be very difficult to reach," explained Chip Lyons, director of special initiatives for the Gates Foundation Global Development Program.
CARE and other private humanitarian aid groups are managing to deliver water, food, and shelter supplies in areas affected by the cyclone, precisely because of this "on-the-ground" presence. They already have international experts and local staff members in the country, as well as ties to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with whom they can collaborate in times of crisis.
A spokesman for Lutheran World Relief told OneWorld that working with local partners is "conducive to providing immediate relief." There is no need to rely on outsiders, pointed out Dan Lee, a distinct advantage in a situation such as Myanmar where the military-ruled government is adamant about excluding foreign humanitarian aid experts from the West, including most UN staff.
Lutheran World Relief, like many nonprofits active in Myanmar, such as Action Against Hunger and ActionAid, works with local groups who can move within the country and even travel to neighboring countries to procure urgently needed supplies. "We give them the cash, and they can get what is needed and deliver it," said Lee.
New Internationalist ActionAid reports that, working through local partners, it has established three camps in the hard-hit Irawaddy Delta and delivered "truckloads" of food and water to villages in the area. Assessment teams covered four towns, finding that: "Relatives' bodies and animals lay around decaying while the survivors tried to live on coconuts and anything they could scavenge. Orphans roamed around aimlessly."
Action Against Hunger has been working in Myanmar, which was formerly called Burma, since 1994 and has 21 international staff and more than 300 Burmese supporting its relief effort. The group's country director, Felix Leger, reported this week that fuel is becoming scarce, potentially hampering efforts to deliver relief supplies to the Irawaddy Delta region. Leger also said that people in the capital, Yangon, have begun hoarding food, and already-high food prices are now soaring. The junta issued a warning Thursday against such practices.
Local relief groups are well-positioned to report on the way in which aid received from abroad is being delivered. A Human Rights Watch report issued Wednesday confirmed beliefs that Western aid is being diverted to military and paramilitary groups tied to the government, while cyclone survivors receive poor substitutes or nothing at all.
International Rescue Committee (IRC) The scale of relief efforts by the United Nations and United States would naturally be far more massive than non-governmental relief organizations are able to provide. NGOs like CARE agree that far more supplies and humanitarian aid experts are desperately needed, but are left holding the fort until further notice.
Unlike Myanmar, where the government lacks expertise and infrastructure to deal with a massive emergency, Chinese authorities are responding aggressively to Monday's devastating earthquake, sending out thousands of rescue teams, supported by soldiers, to danger spots and encouraging blood drives and other volunteer efforts.
Some U.S. humanitarian relief groups are seeking donations to help out in China, but many are waiting to see whether outside assistance will be requested or welcomed.
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