Friday, May 1, 2009

One Year After Cyclone Nargis, FXB Cites Progress and Remaining Challenges in Myanmar

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on May 2-3, 2008. FXB International was at the forefront of the relief and rebuilding efforts in the affected areas, providing food, shelter, and health care to survivors. FXB looks back on the progress of the past year, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

(PRWEB) -- This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on May 2-3, 2008. One of the worst natural disasters in the country's history, the cyclone left an estimated 150,000 people dead and thousands more missing and injured. FXB International was one of the first responders to the storm, providing survivors with critical provisions, including food, water, shelter, and healthcare.

Rebuilding After Cyclone Nargis

The role of nongovernmental organizations like FXB was - and continues to be - vital to the relief and rebuilding efforts in Myanmar. Burmese military and government authorities have been criticized for their slow and ineffective response to the national disaster.

In the past year, FXB has worked around-the-clock to help stabilize the well-being of children, families, and communities in Yangon, Mon State, and Ayeyarwady through a number of relief and rebuilding initiatives. The results of FXB's initiatives to-date include:

* 300 toilets were installed, improving sanitation for 1,200 individuals
* 21 water pumps were installed and 29 polluted ponds were cleaned, providing clean water to over 50,000 individuals
* Food and emergency kits were distributed to 24,000 individuals
* Over 2,000 people living with HIV/AIDS were given treatment medicines
* 25 Child Friendly Spaces were established, providing 4,500 children with educational services
* 360 homes were rebuilt

For these efforts, FXB was cited by both the World Health Organization and the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs for the significant role it played. FXB was able to provide this assistance to survivors because of the support of partners, including the British Embassy in Yangon, UNICEF, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. FXB always maintains emphasis on producing sustainable solutions so individuals are better able to respond to survival challenges in the future.

Despite this progress, the country still faces a grave set of challenges. Long-term problems include agricultural damage, scarce food supplies, destroyed hospitals and schools, and a staggering number of newly vulnerable children in the aftermath of the storm. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to be currently homeless and in need of assistance.

About FXB International: FXB is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children and families hardest hit by poverty and AIDS. FXB began working in Myanmar in 1992 and currently operates several public health and socio-economic development programs targeting vulnerable children and young women.

READ MORE---> One Year After Cyclone Nargis, FXB Cites Progress and Remaining Challenges in Myanmar...

At UN, Child Soldiers Half Addressed in Sri Lanka, Denied in Myanmar

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 29 -- Behind the UN's all day debate Wednesday on children and armed conflict was the war in Sri Lanka. Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan Tamil acceptable to the Sinhala government, issued a report which in Annex Two criticized only the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam but not the government for denial of humanitarian access. Inner City Press asked Ms. Coomaraswamy if the government too wasn't guilty of denying humanitarian access. Coomaraswamy admitted that it was, but stated that since the government no longer recruits child soldiers, it engaging in other grave violations does not get listed in the annex.

Sri Lankan Ambassador Palihakkara spoke near the end of Wednesday debate, criticizing the LTTE and using Coomaraswamy's report to the government's benefit. Afterwards, Inner City Press caught him in the hall and ask about the government's refusal to allow a UN humanitarian assessment team into the conflict zone. Palihakkara said that the ICRC and Caritas have access, the UN has to arrange it with the ICRC's boats.

Later, Ms. Coomaraswamy and her staff noted how Sri Lanka twisted the report, and how government supporters went after fellow Tamil Navi Pillay, of the Human Rights Commission, on blogs and elsewhere. Ambassador Palihakkara was noted as a serious diplomat. But what is he doing now?

Some Tamil groups portray Coomaraswamy as a plant of the Sinhala government. It has been confirmed to Inner City Press that any appointment to Coomaraswamy's level is check with the person's government. If Colombo supported Coomaraswamy, is she a credible skeptic of the UN's treatment of Tamils? We are on record in support of her work. But the doubts are growing, as a subset of the UN's problematic silence as the slaughter in Sri Lanka has developed.

While Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinoza, who presided over Wednesday's session, cancelled her press availability thinking it would degenerate into questions about swine flu, French minister Francois Zemeray braved the stakeout. Inner City Press asked him what France does about child soldiering in Chad -- including the arrests of Chad-based JEM in Omburman, Sudan -- and Zimeray said that the combat of child combattants is a part of French foreign policy everywhere and anywhere. He said he agrees with Mexico's Claude Heller, chairman of the CAAC Working Group, that children recruited into drug gangs should be part of the CAAC mandate. Video here. But Ms. Coomaraswamy told Inner City Press that would require the Council expanding the mandate.

Footnote: Coomaraswamy's report also criticized Myanmar. Inner City Press caught up with Burmese Ambassador Than Swe in the hall after he spoke to the Council, near the anniversary of Cyclone Nargis. He had said, "peace and stability prevail in almost all corners of Myanmar." But as Inner City Press asked earlier in the week, the army there reportedly clashed with the Karen National Union, injuring across the border at least two Thai soldiers. "That is not true," Ambassador Than Swe told Inner City Press. The UN on the other hand said envoy Ibrahim Gambari does not monitor such matters. Watch this site.

READ MORE---> At UN, Child Soldiers Half Addressed in Sri Lanka, Denied in Myanmar...

Burma ‘worst country to be a blogger’

(DVB)–Burma has been ranked by a media watchdog as the worst country in the world in which to be an internet blogger, following the wave of sentencing last year of bloggers and journalists critical of the government.

The report, entitled ‘10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger’, released yesterday by the Committee to Protect Journalists, listed 10 countries in order of the extent of online repression.

Burma’s internet censorship was deemed repressive enough to rank it below notorious violators of press freedom such as Turkmenistan and Iran.

“Governments are quickly learning how to turn technology against bloggers by censoring and filtering the internet, restricting online access and mining personal data,” said Joel Simon, Executive Director of CPJ.

“When all else fails, the authorities simply jail a few bloggers to intimidate the rest of the online community into silence or self-censorship.”

Private internet penetration in Burma is only about one per cent of total activity, said the report, and the majority of Burmese citizens are forced to access the internet in cybercafés, which have to obey government censorship rules.

“I feel the junta is preparing for the 2010 elections,” said Vincent Brossel, Head of Asia desk at media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

“They are increasingly using more sophisticated propaganda, with new licences for new media, and at the same time they are keeping a very close eye on independent journalists and people who are related to the opposition.”

Burmese blogger Nay Phone Latt is currently serving a twelve year sentence in Insein prison for reporting the September 2007 protests.

Comedian Zarganar was last year sentenced to 59 years (later reduced to 35 years) after speaking to foreign media following cyclone Nargis last May.

“I think the role of the outside media and citizen journalists in Burma is reaching to its biggest and the most important level in Burma,” said San Moe Wei, secretary of the Burma Media Association.

Other countries on the list are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cuba.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith and Francis Wade

READ MORE---> Burma ‘worst country to be a blogger’...

Myanmar junta declares lawyers council unlawful

Yangon (M&C)- Myanmar's junta has declared the Burma's Lawyer Council (BLC) 'unlawful,' claiming the organization was 'hurtful to the rule of law in the Union of Myanmar, stability of the state and community peace,' state news reports said Friday.

Major General Maung Oo, minister of Home Affairs, declared the Burma Lawyers Council an illegal organization as of Friday, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The Burma Lawyers Council, which was established in a 'liberated area' in 1994, is an independent organization that has often criticized the military's imprisonment of political prisoners and abuse of the country's judicial system.

The announcement was criticized by local politicians.

'The BLC, a foreign organization, has criticized the Myanmar government because many Myanmar lawyers have been imprisoned by Myanmar government,' said one Myanmar politician, who asked to remain anonymous.

READ MORE---> Myanmar junta declares lawyers council unlawful...

Junta’s role makes life more difficult for Nargis survivors

by Solomon: Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Come May 2, the Burmese people will recall the worst disaster ever to hit the country, in modern times. Cyclone Nargis, left at least 140,000 dead or missing, and devastated the lives of more than 2.4 million people.

A year later, while efforts to rebuild the lives of the affected people continue, victims and relief workers are of the opinion that the government’s absurd policies and their role in reconstruction work, have only added to the miseries of the victims.

In the immediate aftermath of the Cyclone, Burma’s military rulers blatantly rejected the entry of relief materials and international humanitarian aid to help the victims, as they were busy preparing for a Referendum to approve their Constitution, which was drafted unilaterally, without the participation of other political stake holders.

Till date, even after the lapse of a year, victims in the Cyclone affected areas have said that their needs continue to be grave with shortage of food, lack of shelter, scarcity of drinking water, and inadequate support for their livelihood, including education and health.

An aid worker, who worked with an aid agency in the delta said, “If the government had not imposed restrictions on aid groups then the situation might have improved a lot more and survivors would have a better chance of getting support.”

The Rangoon-based aid worker, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said aid distributions had largely been limited by the government’s imposition of restrictions. The government only allowed limited aid workers to go into the delta and the junta kept track of all agencies.

“Though there are several agencies, which have their offices in towns, such as Bogale, Laputta and other bigger towns in the Irrawaddy, there are still several villages in the southern area of the delta, which have not got aid,” a Rangoon-based journalist, who recently visited villages in southern Laputta Township, which is close to the Bay of Bengal, said.

David Scott Mathieson, Burma Researcher of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, the junta, referring to it by its official name – the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – had been systematically controlling the flow of aid and limiting agencies from independently operating, which resulted in the slow recovery of the victims.

“The action of the SPDC in the first two weeks, after the cyclone was absolutely disgraceful,” Mathieson said.

However, later, though the government did allow aid to come in, there were still some impediments in terms of road blocks and control of aid to the delta, he added.

Saga of aid blocking by junta

In the initial few weeks after the Cyclone, Burma’s military government refused to allow international aid agencies to come in to help cyclone victims. However, with the intervention by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Burma’s military chief Snr. Gen Than Shwe agreed to allow aid to come in.

The very first international aid arrived on May 8, after nearly a week of the cyclone hitting Burma. The ruling junta allowed only two UN agencies - World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) to land their relief shipments.

“The regime, one week after the cyclone, had held the constitutional referendum. This was disgraceful and they also stopped some aid from getting in,” Mathieson added.

Burma’s military rulers also initially refused to give visas to a number of international relief workers, but with the intervention of Ban Ki-moon, who visited Burma on May 22, and met Burma’s military chief Senior General Than Shwe, the junta agreed to allow aid groups to come in.

On July 8, 2008, the junta said they had granted more than 1,500 visas for foreign aid workers, but the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Bangkok, told Mizzima on July 7, that the Burmese embassy in Bangkok had granted 317 UN staffs visas, but 13 requests remained pending.

However, one year on, international relief workers are still finding it difficult to get visas, the relief worker said. Getting permission to work in the Irrawaddy Delta is one of the biggest challenges with the government allowing only a limited period of time to foreign aid workers to be based in the delta.

“Before the cyclone there had already been enough problems of getting visas by the international humanitarian workers, but after the disaster it became worse,” said the relief worker.

“There are still restrictions on visas for international relief workers and the junta continues restricting access to the delta especially for foreign aid workers,” he said.

Imprisonment of aid workers

Besides restricting international aid workers to have free access to the cyclone-hit areas, Burma’s military government also conducted a crackdown on domestic aid workers and volunteers, who rushed to the delta in the aftermath of the disaster, to help victims.

Zarganar a.k.a Thura, a well-known comedian and film director, who had raised funds and helped cyclone victims, was arrested in June 2008 and was sentenced to 59 years, under charges of the Video and Electronic Law. But, his sentence was later commuted to 35 years of prison term.

On 10 April 2009, authorities sentenced another six volunteers to prison terms. Aung Thant Zin Oo, Phyo Phyo Aung and Shein Yarza Tun were sentenced to four years each, while Nay Win, Aung Kyaw San and Phone Pyih Kywe were sentenced to two years.

Similarly, Ein Khaing Oo, a 24 year old journalist from the “Ecovision Journal”, along with her friend Kyaw Kyaw Than were also sentenced to two years in November 2008, for reporting on Nargis survivors and approaching the Rangoon- based international NGOs.

“What is completely unacceptable and what is more horrible is the arrest of more than 20 community aid workers, including Zarganar, journalist Ein Khaing Oo and many others,” Mathieson said.

According to the Thailand-based Assistant Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB), at least 21 relief workers, who were helping cyclone victims, have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

Tate Naing, Secretary of the AAPPB said, some of the volunteers arrested and sentenced by the junta were burying corpses, which were piling up in the Irrawaddy delta.

“Their punishment is completely unacceptable. Their ‘crimes’ were to help people and tell the truth about the situation,” Tate Naing said in a statement released on Friday.

Aid control

The relief worker said, though there had been a significant amount of aid reaching the delta, he had witnessed that aid had decline after a year.

He said, it might be due to the agencies shifting focus on reconstruction works. He also said it could be partly because of the government’s restrictions.

A rice merchant from Pyapone Township said, while agencies were seen in the town and working in the areas, he did not see much support from the government.

He said, in the aftermath of the cyclone in Pyapone, the Burmese Army’s Brigade No. 66, had control over relief aid for about 5 months and every aid worker and agency were required to take permission in order to carry out relief work in the township.

But now, he said, the controls had shifted to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, which issued permits to enter the region.

Victims’ plight

Although in some cases farmers received material support to re-start cultivation, the inadequate support and favoritism indulged in by the government hardened the situation with farmers unable to work.

They gave around 6 power tillers for one village and only the people who were close to the authorities got it,” the rice merchant said.

A salt businessman from Laputta Township told Mizzima on Thursday that though he had received a loan from the government to re-start his business, he was now worried of how he would repay the debt.

“We got Kyat 300,000 [USD 300] for an acre of salt farm as a loan from the government, but it will be difficult to return because we could not do well this year,” he said.

Aid Misappropriation

Beside keeping tight control over the flow of aid and denying access to relief workers into the delta, Burma’s military government has also reportedly been misappropriating relief materials meant for victims of the cyclone.

In October 2008, Burma’s authorities arrested Kyaw Soe, a clerk at the Pyapone Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) and Hla Htay for misappropriating rice donated to the cyclone victims.

Both of them were reportedly detained in Pyapone jail, but local residents said so far no charges had been filed against them.

Sources said, Kyaw Soe sold about 1,000 bags of rice in Rangoon, which were donated by Saudi Arabia and was arrested on October 2008, by the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI).

“The BSI has sent the investigation results to Naypyitaw, but the case is not progressing,” the rice merchant, who closely follows the case, told Mizzima.

He said, Kyaw Soe was the unlucky one, as several other local officials were also involved in re-selling aid materials in the market. But following the arrests of the two people, reports of misappropriating aid have subsided.

“Many others were also re-selling aid materials, but they were in small quantities such as 5 to 10 bags of rice. So, there was not much evidence but Kyaw Soe’s case was huge and was well-known,” he said.

On May 14, local residents said they saw biscuits of foreign make, dried meat, instant noodles, tarpaulins and plastic sheets on sale in Nyaungpinlay market, Mingalar market, Bogale market, Theingyi market and other markets in Rangoon.

The Mizzima correspondent in Rangoon has seen tissue packets with Red Cross labels in a store in Mingalar market. Residents of Rangoon also saw army trucks from the Navy supplies Depot, in Mingaladon, Syriam and Laputta bringing the relief materials to the markets.

“We will call on the project [relief aid] to effectively monitor to make sure the SPDC is not profiting from that,” Mathieson said.

Needs still large

Even as relief and reconstruction efforts are ongoing, and a significant amount of aid has reached victims, the UN said it was still crucial for the international community to continue the support.

UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Rangoon, Bishow Parajuli told Mizzima that so far only USD 315 million or 66 per cent of the first revised appeal of USD 477 had been received.

Though much has been accomplished, there are vital needs in various sectors, such as Health, Education, Agriculture, Water and Sanitation, Parajuli said.

READ MORE---> Junta’s role makes life more difficult for Nargis survivors...

Drinking water scarcity needs long term solution

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The acute scarcity of drinking water is one of the main challenges which need immediate attention in some of the Cyclone Nargis devastated areas in Irrawaddy delta in Burma, said relief workers.

“The shortage of drinking water in some areas close to the sea in Irrawaddy region is a major problem. This needs to be solved urgently,” a Burmese relief worker told Mizzima.

Several areas in Irrawaddy delta were covered by saline water when the deadly Cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s coastal area on May 2 and 3 last year. The cyclone reportedly killed about 140,000 people and severely affected 2.4 million people.

After the cyclone, drinking water sources like ponds and wells were not cleared of debris properly and got mixed with saline water.

“As a consequence the areas close to the sea in Irrawaddy division are facing acute shortage of drinking water,” a Burmese relief worker said.

The most vulnerable areas are the villages in Pyikhayine village tracts of Laputta town in southern Irrawaddy delta.

Meanwhile, James East, Regional Communications Advisor of World Vision Asia Pacific, said the challenge of lack of access to drinking water is getting worse in the dry season.

“Lack of access to water was a huge challenge immediately after the cyclone and was further exacerbated in the dry season,” James East told Mizzima.

James said International Government Organizations (INGOs) including World Vision had assisted vulnerable villagers in order to increase the availability of drinking in the cyclone affected areas.

“Drinking water ponds were cleared of debris, water purification machines were installed, sanitation facilities were provided and hygiene awareness training given by NGOs like World Vision,” James East said, “Together, these measures have increased access to water.”

Another local relief worker said that they also distributed bottles of drinking water and water storage facilities such as locally made earthen pots and plastic buckets to the villagers so they could keep drinking water in the coming monsoon.

“The distributed drinking water just lasted two or three days. Providing drinking water and other facilities so far could solve the problem just for the time being,” he added.

James East from World Vision also said that long term measures are necessary to prevent the scarcity of drinking water occurring in the dry season.

“Access to water remains a concern and long-term measures like providing families with water purification filters and drilling wells, where appropriate, will be crucial to avert water shortage during the dry season,” he added.

READ MORE---> Drinking water scarcity needs long term solution...

Food crisis in rural Burma

Bangkok,( Villagers in rural Burma are facing a severe food crisis, requiring urgent attention by the international community, according to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), who today released the report Food crisis: The cumulative impact of abuse in rural Burma. The 28-page briefing paper examines the widespread and sustained human rights abuses at the root of this crisis and states that the crisis is a direct result of systematic militarisation and exploitation by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta currently ruling Burma.

In SPDC-controlled areas, the combination of military demands in the form of forced labour, arbitrary taxation, looting and ad hoc demands for food, money or other supplies, together with land confiscation, movement restrictions and forced relocation, have placed an unsustainable burden on villagers' livelihoods, exacerbated poverty and dramatically increased food insecurity.

Meanwhile, in areas not under firm military control, SPDC forces are trying to force villagers into relocation sites by attacking villages and destroying food stores, fields and livestock. Villagers who manage to escape such attacks and flee into situations of displacement in forest hiding sites face further threats to their food security, as a shoot-on-sight policy, landmines and restrictions on trade make it extremely difficult for villagers to leave their hiding site in order to collect hidden food stores, work their former fields or purchase food supplies.

According to Saw Albert, a Karen spokesperson for the report, “The food crisis has been gradually worsening since the beginning of the SPDC's Northern Offensive in late 2005. With increased attacks on village communities and an intensified forced relocation campaign over the last three and a half years, food insecurity is at an all-time high. In military-controlled areas, villagers struggle to both meet the constant demands of the SPDC and their allied military groups and provide food for their families. While in displaced areas, villagers have to share limited food supplies with each other just to stay alive.”

Recognising the numerous strategies that villagers are already using to address food insecurity, the briefer gives recommendations to the international community on actions that can be taken to alleviate the current crisis and prevent future abuse and malnutrition in rural Burma. These recommendations include increased support for cross-border aid and local civil society organisations which can access affected populations and support for the local food security protection measures that villagers in rural Burma have already developed.

KHRG spokeswoman, Naw September Paw called for increased humanitarian aid to villagers in rural Burma: "Villagers in Karen State are faced with a serious food crisis as the direct result of military exploitation and abuse. In response, villagers have tried to find various ways to address this crisis, to maintain their livelihoods and resist abuse. Despite these strategies, there is a great need for humanitarian aid to be scaled up to reach these people. However, it is the locally-driven protection measures developed by villagers themselves that should first be taken into account in order to effectively address this crisis."

- Asian Tribune -


READ MORE---> Food crisis in rural Burma...

New Naypyidaw Airport to ‘Handle 10.5 Million People a Year’

The Irrawaddy News
(Weekly Business Roundup May 1, 2009)

The new airport being built in Burma’s capital of Naypyidaw will eventually be able to handle more than 10 million passengers per year, according to an industry report.

The airport is being built in three stages by the Burmese company Asia World, whose boss, Tun Myint Naing, also known as Steven Law, is on a U.S. sanctions list because of his close connections with the country’s military leaders.

The first-phase construction will have a capacity of 3.5 million passengers per year and is due to be completed in mid-2011, according to the airport construction industry Web site

The Web site quoted Singapore-based CPG Consultants for the figures, and said CPG designed the new airport.

After all three construction phases are completed, the airport will be able to handle 10.5 million passengers a year, according to the Web site. It did not give a date for the final completion.

READ MORE---> New Naypyidaw Airport to ‘Handle 10.5 Million People a Year’...

Time for Humanitarian Dialogue?

The Irrawaddy News

One year on and the nightmare of Cyclone Nargis still haunts the people living in Burma’s Irrawaddy delta. Those who narrowly survived the storm have seen their lives changed permanently. Proud farmers and workers are now vulnerable refugees living in makeshift shelters—their land destroyed; their livelihoods stolen by a freak storm.

The magnitude of the May 2-3 disaster—the worst in Burma’s recorded history—challenged the capacity of the military regime to conduct and control a mega relief operation for millions of its citizens, thousands of whom were dead, injured, orphaned, traumatized and homeless.

The international community responded unanimously with an outpouring of sympathy for the cyclone victims and an immediate promise of massive emergency aid into the affected areas.

The junta thanked the world by coldly rejecting the aid, dragging its feet on relief decisions and imposing a blockade on the delta region.

The impasse was eventually breached and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) were allowed into the country to offer relief and implement humanitarian programs.

Since last May, the number of INGOs operating in the Irrawaddy delta has doubled to more than 100 and the numerous field offices around the region testify to the INGO community’s desire to help people in the delta rebuild their lives.

However, it is because of the scope and depth of this relief operation that the situation demands a networking mechanism among the INGOs to address disaster-related issues.

No such a mechanism has existed before in Burma because the authorities preferred to create an element of competition between the INGOs, playing games of favoritism and giving concessions to those who please them.

The treatment the junta dished out to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is arguably the best example of how Burmese authorities have regarded INGOs with contempt.

Renowned throughout the world for its impartiality and apolitical objectives, ICRC has managed to maintain health projects and treat the wounded in world wars, civil conflicts and humanitarian disasters since 1863. ICRC has a reputation for keeping its nose out of a country’s political affairs and has consequently been allowed to operate during military operations in Palestine, Afghanistan, both recent Iraqi wars, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Yet even the ICRC couldn’t navigate its way through the Burmese junta’s red tape and restrictions, including a ban on visiting prisoners. In March 2007 it made the decision to close down some of its field offices and cease some major operations in Burma due to a complete lack of cooperation from the junta.

“The ICRC's humanitarian work in Myanmar has now reached near- paralysis,” said ICRC’s Director of Operations Pierra Krahenbuhl in Geneva at the time.

Save the Children-Myanmar has emerged as the leading INGO in the region after the cyclone, coordinating a consortium of local NGOs and INGOs, such as International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the Burnet Institute, Swiss Aid, World Concern, KDN (Knowledge and Dedication for the Nation) and the Metta Foundation. Known as “Paung Ku,” the consortium was created to offer capacity-building support and a small grants service to the emerging local relief groups which were urgently in need of technical and financial support.

Save the Children has proven its mettle for its capacity to participate in broader relief operations, such as health, education, protection of women and children, shelter and food assistance, livelihood projects and logistics.

The organization was among 13 INGOs that issued a joint appeal statement in October 2007 calling for both the Burmese government and the international community to collaborate toward achieving three demands: to strengthen public sector policies by increasing public expenditure in health, education and sustainable livelihoods; to improve operating environment for local and international humanitarian organizations; and to significantly scale-up international humanitarian assistance to directly address the needs of the poor.

The joint statement was a concerted attempt by the INGOs to express their serious concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Burma soon after the regime brutally cracked down on the Buddhist monks-led demonstrations.

Then, in late 2008, another major INGO, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report titled “A Preventable Fate: The Failure of ART Scale-up in Myanmar,” criticizing the Burmese authorities.

“MSF can no longer continue to scale-up ART [anti-retroviral treatment] provision, in the face of so little response by other actors. Therefore, it has had to make the painful decision to restrict the number of new patients it can treat… With growing revenue from oil and gas exports, the Government must invest more in its ailing health system and specifically HIV/AIDS care and treatment,” the report stated.

But it has become clear that the demands of the INGOs have not been met by the military regime. They will take little solace from the fact 10 years ago and no agency would dare criticize the regime for fear of its projects being disrupted.

When analyzing the expansion of the humanitarian aid programs in the region, there is no denying that Cyclone Nargis significantly altered the capacity of the INGOs in terms of the number of organizations operating and the structural expansion within those organizations.

For instance, Save the Children employed around 500 staff before the cyclone; now it has a staff of 1,600. However, now that the emergency relief period is over, INGOs are scaling down their operations. According to a source close to Save the Children, the organization will reduce its staff by 300 in the near future and close down five of its field offices.

Another significant factor in the equation is the expansion of local civil society organizations (CSOs) despite their having to operate under numerous restrictions. One major obstacle for these local groups is that they cannot officially register or open a bank account with the state-owned foreign exchange bank which is the only conduit in the country for transacting the delivery of foreign currencies. As a result, they have to rely heavily on the INGOs inside the country.

What is unforgivable is that the regime has harassed, arrested, detained and even handed down harsh prison sentences to the selfless citizens who formed small groups and weathered atrocious conditions to rescue and support victims of the cyclone.

Take the case of Dr Nay Win, a former political prisoner. He responded to the disaster along with his daughter and four colleagues by helping villagers in the delta by cremating corpses. The six were detained by authorities and sentenced earlier this month under sections 6 and 7 of Unlawful Association Act.

A litany of human rights violations by the regime in the wake of Cyclone Nargis was recorded by Thailand-based Emergency Assistance Team (Burma) with the technical help of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a recent report titled “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta.”

However, the report was not fully appreciated by several organizations working inside Burma. A group of 21 INGOs—including Save the Children—challenged the credibility of the EAT report and accused the group of undermining the case for further aid to the survivors. The group went on to call for dialogue with EAT-Johns Hopkins to solve their differences.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok in on April 22, Dr Frank Smithius of MSF-Holland admitted the restrictions on the activities of the international aid agencies outside the cyclone-affected areas imposed by the regime remain unchanged.

At the same panel discussion, Andrew Kirkwood, the country director of Save the Children-Myanmar reiterated the call for a humanitarian dialogue with EAT-Johns Hopkins.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, he said the researchers’ report was not “balanced.” He went on to say that Save the Children was working closely with the Burmese junta.

“With their [the government’s] cooperation, we are able to do a lot of community-based assistance. So it’s really not right to say that all parts of the government are not being cooperative.”

However, the heads of Save the Children and MSF-Holland stopped short of calling for the release of individuals who received harsh prison sentences for undertaking humanitarian work or volunteering their services in cyclone-ravaged areas.

In short, the last two years have been critical times for INGOs in Burma and they should be commended for taking on unprecedented projects. They have stood up and criticized the junta and have made a few rare efforts to change the junta’s policies. They have also proved that they can operate even under severe governmental restrictions. Finally, they have been able to set up a cooperating and networking mechanism to collectively respond to what they believe undermines the continuation of international aid to Burma.

However, controversially, they were silent when it came time to publicly criticize the junta’s repression on local relief volunteers, despite the impartial and apolitical nature of the humanitarian work involved.

The time has come for the INGOs to reassess their three demands and exercise their networking mechanism to seek a humanitarian dialogue with the junta for the promotion and protection of the local CSOs.

International humanitarian aid will follow if the junta genuinely creates a better operational environment without restrictions and repression.

The author is an independent researcher in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

READ MORE---> Time for Humanitarian Dialogue?...

No Land, No Home, No Hope

PYAPON, Irrawaddy Delta— When she sees other families in her neighborhood receiving housing materials to rebuild their houses, 43-year-old Khin Yee’s hopes lift. But for the most part, she is desperately depressed.

Prior to Cyclone Nargis, Khin Yee lived in a small house that sat alongside a paddy field, about one mile from Mhawbi Village, near Pyapon. Her husband, a rice farmer, was killed in the storm that ravaged the region on May 2-3 last year.

A man points to the hut where 12 members of his family are currently living. (Photo: Min Khet Maung/The Irrawaddy)

Now she is too traumatized to stay at the old place, and has moved close to Mhawbi, where she stays with her three children in a makeshift shelter.

“I have no land on which to build a house, even if I was given the housing materials,” she said. “I was promised by some volunteers from a humanitarian agency that they would build a house for me, but that it would only be possible when I own some land.”

Khin Yee said she has no money to buy land, and no relatives she can borrow from or share with.

With a crack in her voice, Khin Yee said she has all but given up hope.

There are hundreds of people like Khin Yee in the areas devastated by the cyclone who have been left without land.

“We have been urging the [Burmese] government to tackle this [land] problem for several months, but so far, we haven't seen any action from the government," said a United Nations official, who is involved in rehabilitation projects. (JEG's: quite the opposite the government is selling the land by plots and or building for the elite who can afford it.. .)

He said that the government should consider the issue seriously as landless families are still stranded and unable to support themselves.

"We would give shelter to the homeless, but it's the government's duty to distribute property to the landless families," the UN official said.

In the meantime, most of those made landless by the deadly storm are living in makeshift huts, mainly built from bamboo and sheets of tarpaulin.

Next door—as such—to Khin Yee's house is a dilapidated shelter that has no walls and no stilts. A family of eight lives there, and since it is built on the ground, the family has to sleep on plastic sheets on a cold bare dirt floor.

The head of the family said she has been told repeatedly by the local authorities that they were preparing to move her family back to their former village.

But, as she points out, the problem is that they have nowhere to go back to. Everything was destroyed by the cyclone, including the arable land which was ruined by salt water.

She said that there are more than 20 homeless families from Mhawbi who are currently waiting for land on which they can build a house.

She said that all the families are worried about the upcoming rainy season.

"My hut is just one foot above the stream," she said, pointing to the four-foot-wide waterway running alongside the road in front of her shelter. “I'm afraid our hut will get washed away as soon as the heavy rains come and cause flooding.”


READ MORE---> No Land, No Home, No Hope...

Burmese Women Arrested in Prostitution Raid


Thirty-nine Burmese migrant women were arrested on Tuesday by Thai immigration authorities in Ranong in southern Thailand under suspicion of working as prostitutes and illegal entry into the country, according to local sources.

A local resident said that at least 40 members of the Thai security forces, including soldiers, raided a house where Burmese women were living and arrested all those inside.

“The women had been renting the house for some time,” he said. “But the neighbors were upset about what they were doing, so they informed the local authorities.”

According to Inn News, a Thai-language Web site, immigration officials questioned the arrested women, 17 of whom allegedly entered Thailand illegally and five of whom had border passes that had expired.

Inn News quoted a 20-year-old Burmese woman as saying: “I come from Rangoon and have been living in Ranong for six years.”

She said that she normally serviced eight to ten customers a night, according to the Thai Web site, and that Burmese migrant sex workers have to pay 180 Baht (US $5) per night to local authorities to avoid arrest.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, a staff member at the immigration office in Ranong said the 39 women were being detained at the local police station.

Last week, Burmese and Thai authorities signed an agreement to counter human trafficking—especially that of women and children—which included a measure to set up more checkpoints along the common border.

READ MORE---> Burmese Women Arrested in Prostitution Raid...

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