Wednesday, May 7, 2008

NGO Access to Myanmar

I've received several emails and comments over the past few days asking how NGOs can get into Myanmar to assist, given the difficulty in obtaining entry visas. While I don't have a direct answer, my experience with Hurricane Andrew in the U.S. is probably somewhat instructive. In order to get into S. Florida with relief supplies, I had to work through an established agency already in the area (Catholic Relief Services) and bring documentation that the relief supplies I was transporting were destined for that organization. It was the only way I could be assured of getting through the roadblocks and demonstrate to local authorities that the truck I was driving was legit. And this was in the U.S. I'm sure that those who responded to Katrina could tell similar stories.

There's no question that this approach (working through an established agency) should ease the difficulty of access to Myanmar, because much of the disaster response staging by NGOs appears to be occurring in Bangkok, Thailand where most NGOs in the region are based. While the government of Myanmar was initially very reluctant to issue visas to relief organizations, there are several agencies that have longer term relationships in Myanmar for ongoing work, and contact with any of those organizations would certainly expedite acceptance of offers of assistance (either monetary donations or actual on-the-ground efforts).

One such agency (Thirst-Aid) was profiled yesterday; contact information below. Another is Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been working in Myanmar for many years. They've conducted a quick "needs assessment", and are dispatching teams to the areas most affected:

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have so far been able to assess all areas in the townships of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and are in the process of trying to assess areas outside of Yangon that we suspect may have been harder hit. For humanitarian actors it is essential to have unrestricted and immediate access to all affected populations and regions in order to assess needs and react accordingly.

MSF teams in Yangon began setting up a first emergency response, including distribution of food and plastic sheeting, and water chlorination. In Daala and Twante, two townships with a total population of 300,000, MSF teams witnessed the destruction of 80 percent of houses in certain pockets and up to meter-high flood waters. Under these circumstances infectious diseases such as cholera can spread easily. In these two areas MSF is organizing a first emergency response by distributing food, water, and first necessity items for 5,000 people...

Please visit their website for more information.

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