Volunteers send aid through Burma's (Myanmar's) back door
They are channeling supplies across the Thai-Burmese border to existing underground networks spread across the disaster zone.
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Five minutes later, she had an answer. Switch to Sen. Barack Obama? No, Ms. Finke elected to fly here June 11 to join a grassroots effort for cyclone relief and civil empowerment for Burma (Myanmar), run by the father of her friend who was calling to urge her to come.
For most volunteers hoping to help, Burma seems like a bust. Five weeks after cyclone Nargis killed 134,000 and uprooted 2.4 million, military rulers continue to keep foreign aid workers at arm's length.
But not all roads to the disaster zone go through Rangoon, where relief groups are based. Aid is also trickling over Burma’s international borders, often via bases of activism against Burma's regime. It's a backdoor channel for aid groups unwilling or unable to go through the front. By tapping an existing underground network in Burma, they try to bypass official channels and put aid directly in the hands of the most needy.
"It was Thailand all the way. I never questioned it. If you know what's going on in Burma, I don't know how you could not do it," says Ms. Finke, one of several enthusiastic, young volunteers who have joined this underground aid effort.
Aid blocks at the front door
A few weeks after United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon won a promise from Burma's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, that the government would lift restrictions on foreign aid workers, the junta continues to impede their access.
Many have been restricted from entering Burma or, once inside, have been confined to working in Rangoon, which they need permits to leave.
In another possible hurdle, on Tuesday the government issued guidelines requiring relief workers to secure a large amount of paperwork and make repeated contacts with national and local government agencies and a committee called the Tripartite Core Group. The group includes representatives from the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member.
The government did, however, allow 250 experts from the Tripartite Core Group to enter the Irrawaddy Delta, where the cyclone hit, on Tuesday to conduct a 10-day assessment of needs. The UN currently estimates that, of the 2.4 million people affected, more than 1 million still need regular aid.
Humanitarian agencies that are trying to gain access for their own aid specialists say they need money to support their efforts, but fundraising has been a challenge: Private donations have lagged behind those given for earthquake relief in Sichuan, China, a shortfall that some blame on Burma's grudging attitude toward outside help and foreign media.
Mercy Corps has raised $5.4 million for its Sichuan quake appeal, compared to $1.7 million for Burma, says spokeswoman Susan Laarman.
The restrictions on movement that relief workers in Burma face has compounded the problem for fundraisers, as the issue of international access, and not the vital aid that does get through, usually dominates media coverage, says James East, a media officer for World Vision.