To air drop aid in Myanmar or not?

By mborum

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As debate heats up on whether aid air drops should be used in Myanmar, international aid agency Oxfam said today that often when the international community has chosen to parachute in aid to a disaster or conflict zone it has been hugely expensive and failed to reach the most vulnerable people.

?Oxfam?s experience is that aid air drops can help but are hugely expensive and very limited in what they can deliver,? said Michael Delaney, director of humanitarian response for Oxfam America.

Air dropping aid does not guarantee that food and other relief supplies will reach the people most in need. In many cases it is the strongest and fittest who get to the aid first, and not the sick or injured who most need help and assistance. In a natural disaster such as Cyclone Nargis or conflict like Darfur it?s not only food that is needed but also sophisticated equipment such as clean water and sanitation systems weighing tons as well as highly skilled staff to operate them, all of which cannot be dropped from the sky.

?If there isn?t an aid operation on the ground to distribute the aid, the air drops can exacerbate any tense relations within communities with only the fittest and fastest benefiting,? said Delaney.

?At best aid air drops can only be a partial solution, at worst they give the illusion that somehow we are addressing this ever-worsening humanitarian crisis. The biggest risk is that aid air drops will be a distraction from what is really needed ? a highly effective aid operation on the ground. The highest diplomatic effort is still required to ensure that aid and aid experts are allowed into Myanmar to help save lives,? added Delaney.

In any humanitarian response, including in Myanmar today, what?s always needed more than air drops is a well coordinated and widespread aid operation on the ground. The humanitarian relief operation mounted in Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is a text book case of what?s required following a major humanitarian catastrophe. Within days of the tsunami relief flights carrying equipment and relief personnel were permitted to land to assist those affected by the disaster.

?There can be no substitute for an aid operation on the ground. It?s the best way to save lives and to ensure aid is targeted at the most vulnerable people,? said Delaney.

And that is the quandary in cyclone-affected parts of Myanmar today. Should aid be parachuted in or should agencies such as Oxfam alongside local partners be allowed to operate on the ground? Oxfam wants to be allowed to operate in Myanmar because it has years of experience responding to natural and man-made disasters around the world.

?We support a call for international aid agencies such as Oxfam to be permitted to work in cyclone-affected parts of Myanmar,? said Delaney. ?We have the experience and expertise to save lives and we?d obviously welcome a chance to play our part assisting the millions of people affected by this natural disasters.?

In readiness to respond Oxfam has pre-positioned relief supplies as well as aid workers in the region. In total Oxfam has nearly 90 highly-trained experienced disaster response specialists including logisticians, water engineers and public health experts on standby and ready to leave at a moment?s notice.

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