Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Visa Backlog Holds Up Irrawaddy Delta Relief Work

The Irrawaddy News

PHUKET, Thailand — The international post-cyclone relief effort in the Irrawaddy delta is under pressure because of a delay in granting visas for more than 200 aid workers, according to a senior official with the Tripartite Core Group (TCG).

William Sabandar, special envoy of the Asean Secretary-General for Post Nargis Recovery in Burma, told The Irrawaddy that although relief workers were still being allowed into the delta area their numbers had been cut because of a backlog in granting visas.

A boy looks past a tarpaulin cover, used by his family for shelter,
in Labutta Township at Burma's Irrawaddy delta region.
Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster recorded in Burma's history,
slammed into the delta region on May 2, 2008, killing
more then 130,000 people and leaving 2.4 million destitute. (Photo: Reuters)

“There’s a backlog in the granting of more than 200 visas,” he said. “We are working on trying to resolve the situation.”

Sabandar—who has experience of post-tsunami work in Aceh, Indonesia, said the greatest difficult in working in Burma was building trust.

He said he raised the matter of the backlog with Burmese Foreign Minister Maj-Gen Nyan Win during a working dinner in Phuket on Sunday. “He understands the issue and he would like to help.”

Relief workers in Burma say they have been experiencing difficulties since Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu, chairman of the TCG, was transferred to an inactive position, as chairman of the ministerial-level Civil Service Selection and Training Board.

After the junta faced international outrage over the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi’s began in May, the activities and visa processing of relief workers had been experiencing difficulties, said a European relief worker who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two books on Cyclone Nargis were launched at the Asean session: A Bridge to Recovery: Asean’s Response to Cyclone Nargis and Myanmar: Life after Nargis.

According to Myanmar: Life after Nargis, the Burmese regime had missed a crucial opportunity to represent itself appropriately in the eyes of the Burmese people and the international community. The book is published by the Asean Secretariat and the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

“The Myanmar Government missed another opportunity to shore up its legitimacy,” said the authors of the book, saying Nargis victims had expressed their frustration at the regime’s delay in accepting international assistance.

At a donor meeting in Bangkok in February, the TCG announced its three year recovery plan for Nargis victims. The plan has a proposed budget of US $ 691 million.

However, the Asean Secretariat says in the book, A Bridge to Recovery: Asean’s Response to Cyclone Nargis: “Donor support pledged to date needs turning into firm commitments”.

“The recovery experience after other disasters has shown that the receiving of international assistance depends strongly on the effectiveness of the coordination and implementation structure in place,” the Asean Secretariat says in the book.

International donors are reportedly disappointed at the level of corruption in dealing with funds, as well as the lack of direct engagement between donors and the junta’s senior officials.

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