Aid efforts begin to gather momentum in Burma (Myanmar)
More workers are being allow in, but some who have been in cyclone-affected areas say bureaucracy is impeding access to victims.
As relief workers fly to Rangoon (Yangon) with a ray of hope after three weeks of frustrated efforts to get into Burma (Myanmar), aid efforts are gathering momentum in the cyclone-damaged Irrawaddy Delta. Yet many workers are voicing fresh complaints about bureaucratic restrictions and government efforts to move people out of shelters and back to their devastated villages.Skip to next paragraph
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"The government is a bit more relaxed now that the [constitutional] referendum is done," says Marvin Parvez, who has been working in Rangoon with a number of agencies. "They were so fixed on the referendum, especially [junta leader Gen.] Than Shwe, it was blocking everything else. Now aid is getting there.
"The level is still not where it should be," he continues. "But given the unique context of Burma, it's good. Things are moving, maybe not at the speed aid agencies are used too, but it's moving now."
At the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, an immigration officer wears a jacket labeled "United Nations," while others peruse a list on a computer screen of reporters banned from Burma. Though many exasperated missionaries and members of smaller nongovernmental organizations are told to come back in two weeks, Burmese visa officers have largely upheld the promises of General Shwe and allowed larger numbers of aid workers, especially United Nations staffers, to obtain entry permits.
Given the scope of the cyclone – according to the Burmese government, it killed 78,000 and left another 56,000 missing – aid groups say an influx of fresh relief workers is badly needed to bolster, or replace, overworked staff. An estimated 2.4 million people have been left homeless and without adequate food.
"We're trying to replace staff who've been in the delta the last three weeks," says James East, Bangkok-based spokesman for World Vision, which has 50 staff and 50 volunteers in the devastated area. "It's exhausting working in that environment. Seeing children killed by disasters is probably the highest stress point. It builds up over time. We need to care for our staff, as well as the survivors."
In a written account from Doctors Without Borders, a young doctor described the travails of helping victims in the delta area of Ngapudaw. She and 15 others spent the first week on a rain-soaked boat, showering in salty water, with only one cellphone to call family and friends for support. "Our team spirit was very good," the doctor wrote. "But at night it was very difficult to fall asleep. I kept thinking about the horrible stories I had heard and at times I felt very unsafe, because of the bad weather and the fear of another big storm."
She said her team would wake at 5 a.m., put on damp clothing, and have some instant noodles and coffee. Taking smaller boats, they would pass dead bodies and animals in the water.