Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delta recovery could be jeopardized by Suu Kyi trial

by Celeste Chenard

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma's trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could hurt international efforts to help the country's continuing recovery from devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, donors and international organizations said on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.

Donors warned that the ongoing trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, will likely make it harder to raise aid money for the victims of last year’s cyclone, including for the benefit of thousands of children who presently are either without educational opportunity or subjected to daunting conditions not conducive to instruction.

"They [various organizations] certainly mentioned the fact that it [the trial] has not helped the enthusiasm of their constituencies to engage more actively, more fully," Surin told reporters.

Donors and aid groups additionally expressed their concern that authorities may reduce access to the country after the military-ruled government eliminated a mechanism for fast-track visa processing for foreign aid workers.

However, John Clancy, Spokesperson for Louis Michel, European Commissioner in-charge for the Humanitarian Aid Department in Brussels, disagreed with the prevailing mood in Bangkok. "Humanitarian aid is not in any way influenced by policy work," he told Mizzima by phone today, adding, "Humanitarian aid depends on the needs of the population."

Clancy also noted that to date Europe has maintained a good working relationship with authorities in Burma, an arrangement which he expects to continue into the future.

Aid groups have been struggling to raise money to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis since the storm struck in early May 2008, killing approximately 140,000 and leaving an additional 2.4 million homeless.

In 2008, the European Community contributed 39 millions euros ($US 59 million) toward Nargis relief efforts, with funds directed through private aid organizations as opposed to via official government channels.

Meanwhile, Bishow Parajuli, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, told a gathering yesterday in Rangoon, “The international community should increase its efforts, in cooperation with the Government of Myanmar [Burma] and local organizations, in order to promote quality education for all children and youth," citing the reconstruction of the lacking educational system as critical for Burma's future.

Educational infrastructure in the cyclone ravished delta region is said to be in a particularly perilous state, despite the best efforts of relief workers. Some 4,000 schools were documented as having been effected by the winds and water, with nearly 1,300 completely destroyed. Additionally, materials and teachers continue to be in short supply, as children can be found studying in classrooms with plastic sheets for walls.

To date, 1,400 schools in the delta have been repaired, with an additional $US 160 million estimated to be needed over the ensuing three years to continue the further rehabilitation of the delta's educational system. The price tag for all funds needed to complete the delta's rehabiliation stands at nearly $US 700 million.

Yet, Burma's education system is in desperate need of assistance not only in the delta region, but throughout the impoverished state.

“More efforts are required to increase education opportunities to children not only in the delta, but also in the rest of the country,” emphasized U.N. Children’s Fund Deputy Representative Juanita Vasquez, speaking from Rangoon yesterday.

Following the paralyzing political turmoil of 1988, universities throughout the country remained closed for nine of the ensuing twelve years.

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