A Year After Cyclone, Myanmar Now Allowing Aid Into Country
A Year After Cyclone, Myanmar Junta Now Allowing Aid Into Country
A year after Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta region, the notoriously secretive military junta that rules the country now readily accepts air shipments of foreign aid, even from the West, the New York Times reports.
In the weeks following the cyclone, the junta refused to allow French and U.S. naval ships carrying aid supplies to dock and offload the supplies — a decision fueled by hubris and pride, said a senior United Nations program director who wished to remain anonymous. Once the generals realized the extent of the damage, however, they allowed themselves to be persuaded by their neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, especially Indonesia and Singapore, to assume a somewhat more relaxed posture, and a significant national response ensued. Although the junta still fears a seaborne invasion by Western powers, and foreigners still cannot enter the delta region without permission, the number of international aid groups allowed to work in Myanmar has doubled in the past year.
Despite the changes in posture and policy, Myanmar still needs help, however. According to estimates contained in a recent recovery plan, the country will need $690 million in aid over the next three years to get back to normal — funds that will be difficult to raise. A year-long UN appeal came up $162 million, or 33 percent, short of its goal. Exacerbating the situation, the ruling junta historically has kept international NGOs and multilateral agencies, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, at arm's length.
Still, aid organizations speak positively about the progress that has occurred. According to Médecins Sans Frontières country director Frank Smithuis, the delta region is far enough along in its recovery — and there are enough other agencies now working there — for MSF to deploy staff to poorer, needier parts of the country.
"The overall response of the government has been remarkable," said Lilianne Fan, a former policy adviser in Myanmar for Oxfam. "They are 'getting it' more and more each day that they are involved in the recovery process."