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Providing assistance to Burma

8 May, 2008

The devastation wrought on Burma by Cyclone Nargis is becoming all the more apparent by the day.  There are also serious concerns about the Burmese junta’s approach to the disaster, which may be responsible for thousands of more deaths through neglect.  Under these circumstances, it is particularly difficult to know how to make donations that might be at all effective at reaching their target.  Personally, I donated via, which is supporting an organisation of Buddhist monks in Burma.

The post reproduced below was circulated on a Southeast Asia-focused mailing list that I subscribe to.  It provides an argument for the most effective forms of assistance and recommendations about the best aid agencies to approach.  This might provide some assistance to those considering the best way to help. I do not make any personal endorsement of the organisations listed.

From Mary Callahan:

A number of friends and colleagues have asked how to help the people of Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The malevolence of the Burmese government toward their people is incomprehensible. The junta is making it very difficult for foreign relief agencies to get desperately need medical assistance and other supplies to the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) of victims of the cyclone. International media report that foreign relief workers are not being granted visas. Even if aid personnel can get into the country, existing government regulations are likely to make it difficult for expatriate relief workers to travel very far outside Rangoon.

There are, however, dozens of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Burma that have worked there for years. There are also several hundred local NGOs, which include faith-based organizations (Christian churches and monasteries) and other social service organizations. And finally, UN agencies such as UNICEF and the UN Development Program have staff throughout the country. Most of these organizations have years of experience carrying out disaster relief during both the annual monsoon and fire seasons. Until yesterday, US economic sanctions against Burma made it quite difficult to donate money to non-governmental operations inside the country. As of last night, the Treasury Department has loosened some of those restrictions at least in regard to international organizations.

The international and local NGOs and the UN agencies already on the ground employ thousands of Burmese professionals and support staff, who – unlike the foreign/expatriate staff – can travel to affected areas. Already, the NGO community has assembled assessment teams (including medical personnel) to go to the Irrawaddy Delta, where upwards of 20,000 are already confirmed dead.

Realistically, in the early stages of this relief operation, it will be the Burmese staff of INGOs, local NGOs and UN agencies who will carry the lion’s share of the burden. They have worked in this aid-hostile environment; have intimate knowledge of how to carry out aid without putting beneficiaries at risk; and are well-placed to identify community needs. When foreign relief operations do finally get access to Burma, it is of the utmost importance that they coordinate with and support these locally-based nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies that understand the complexity of working in Burma.

Both the Burmese government restrictions and US economic sanctions make it very difficult to give money to local NGOs directly, but it is possible to support their work by donating to the international groups that have longstanding partnerships with local NGOs and community-based organizations (including churches and monasteries). The following international organizations are already in the Delta and have launched fundraising campaigns to support broader efforts. All of them have proven track records in Burma, and especially in the Delta.

ADRA International
Myanmar Cyclone Fund
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904
(800) 424-ADRA ext. 2372

151 Ellis Street N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30303
(800) 521-2273

Project HOPE
255 Carter Hall Lane
Millwood, VA 22646
(800) 544-4673

Save the Children
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
(800) 728-3843

U.S. Fund for UNICEF
125 Maiden Lane, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10038
(800) 4UNICEF

World Concern
19303 Fremont Ave. North
Seattle, WA 98133
(800) 755-5022, ext.7706

World Vision
P.O. Box 9716
Federal Way, WA 98063
(888) 56-CHILD

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Third Tone Devil permalink
    8 May, 2008 3:36 pm

    I wonder if the Chinese government will deliver a really big aid package this time. It would work well with the “humanitarian Olympics,” as they are calling it, and could obviate the need of major Western assistance.

  2. 13 May, 2008 2:45 pm

    Yesterday there was a comment by Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, in The Guardian. Evans essentially supports French Foreign Minister (and MSF founder) Bernard Kouchner’s proposal for “coercive intervention under the “responsibility to protect” principle unanimously endorsed by 150 heads of state and government at the 2005 UN World Summit.” Kouchner proposed that the Security Council pass a resolution which “authorizes the delivery and imposes this on the Burmese government.” The proposal was rejected not only by China and Russia, but also (though less clearly) by other Security Council members.

    Evans, who was “one of the original architects” of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, points out “that it is not about human security generally, or protecting people from the impact of natural disasters” but “about protecting vulnerable populations from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and is concerned that if “R2P, and in particular the sharp military end of the doctrine, is capable of being invoked in anything other than a context of mass atrocity crimes, then such consensus as there is in favour of the new norm will simply evaporate in the global South.” But he now believes that if “what the generals are now doing, in effectively denying relief to hundreds of thousands of people at real and immediate risk of death, can itself be characterised as a crime against humanity, then the responsibility to protect principle does indeed cut in.”

    Obviously, getting aid to people against the resistance of a government is not possible unless it is accompanied by military intervention. I am not averse to such a move if it is well thought-through, and I have to say I am happy that European politicians are for once taking the initiative. But I am sceptical as to how to carry this through. I guess the U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993 was a similar initiative, and it failed. Today the international climate is much more hostile to such interventions than it was then.


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