Thursday, May 8, 2008

Update: Aid Starts Trickling Into Myanmar

Over the past couple of days, the primary narrative being spun in the media is the frustration level of various agencies in being allowed to bring aid into Myanmar, both in terms of supplies and personnel. As of this morning (Thursday, 5/8) relief aid is starting to trickle into the chaotic situation in Yangon.

It's surprising that organizations who never had a presence on the ground in Myanmar expect to crash the borders, good intentions or not. Regardless of what the world community thinks of the government in Myanmar, there isn't a country in the world which would just throw open their borders, regardless of the scope of a natural disaster, without vetting the groups who wish to help. That's simple national security in any country. I would expect that's even more true for a reclusive and paranoid government such as that of the Shwe regime. What's surprising is that media reporters such as CBS News' Celia Hatton are surprised:

"They're suspicious of the motives of NGO's and the U.S. government and that is not going to change," said Hatton. "Also many people believe that the military regime wants to get political credit for distributing aid itself so it has asked for help but it wants to be seen as giving the aid directly to the people and it wants to be able to get the thanks from the Burmese people for doing so."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast, many countries offered immediate and tangible assistance, among them Cuba (medical support) and Venezuela (water purification and portable power plants). The Bush administration refused to accept the offers of aid from either country, even as the residents of New Orleans perched on roofs for days, and were unable to get even the most basic assistance from U.S. government rescue teams.

NGOs who have an established presence in Myanmar do not appear to be having significant issues with access to the country (though getting to the remote areas of the Irrawaddy delta that were hardest hit is understandably difficult). The bottom line is that if I was running an NGO that wanted to assist, but didn't have the established relationships in Myanmar, I'd be working to partner with those agencies that already have boots on the ground. It only makes sense. Time is precious at this point, and "blame assignment" is counter-productive. It would seem that efforts are better spent working channels that are already open, rather than getting involved in petty agency turf wars.

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