Are Burma's aid delays discriminatory?
Minority groups, uch as the Karen, inhabit much of the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy Delta.
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Survival might depend on connections to the military, rather than any ethnic group. The military regime is reportedly hoarding better-quality foreign aid for itself and doling out inferior or even rotten food, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, even as the United Nations declared that only a small portion of international aid needed is making it into the country.Skip to next paragraph
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Facing mounting criticism for hampering aid efforts, the isolated regime has agreed to accept relief shipments from the UN and foreign countries, but has largely refused entry to aid workers who might distribute the aid. Two US planes delivered aid this week, and the regime indicated a willingness to allow future shipments. But logistical bottlenecks, poor infrastructure, and the junta's restrictions have delayed the distribution of the aid, which is piling up at the airport in Rangoon.
Cyclone survivors are said to be packed into monasteries or camped in the open, drinking dirty water contaminated by dead bodies and animal carcasses. Food and medicine are scarce.
Citizen aid-workers begin to mobilize
Grass-roots relief efforts are beginning to crop up, says Htet Zaw, a former magazine editor who fled to Thailand after the military crackdown on protesters last September. He reports that Burmese students, monks, and migrant workers are beginning to organize an underground network to deliver supplies directly to victims by a method he calls "man to man, monk to monk."
"The problem is how to carry clothes and food and other things directly to the people. We don't want to give it to the junta because they will steal it or delay it," he says.
"This kind of tragedy, this scale of devastation often brings people together. Often it doesn't matter where you come from. People are dying. People band together," says Pamela Sitko, a regional spokesperson for World Vision. "But when people are not getting aid and trying to survive, rioting can break out, and then it becomes a matter of who is going to survive."
Ethnic groups living in the Irrawaddy Delta include Mon and Muslim Indian minorities and aboriginal groups. Relatively wealthy Chinese traders made up 10 percent of delta towns such as Lapputa, according to Myo Khin, a trader who has lost most of his family in the delta. They will likely flee to tend other businesses in Rangoon, he says.
"They will all move to [Rangoon], because they are rich. But the poor people like the Burmese and the Karen cannot move. They have no friends, no money," he continues.
He says he fears Chinese delta residents will also lose their land rights. "Everybody in Lapputa thinks the government is coming to steal their land. Lapputa is very important because it's near the sea. The government wants to turn this into a big navy area."