Myanmar Donor Conference Must Put People Before Political Differences

By Oxfam

BOSTON ? International agency Oxfam said that donor governments must make the promise of the ?aid bridge? proposed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) a reality and the focus on getting desperately needed aid into Myanmar the one and only objective of this weekend?s meeting.

?A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar and the threat of a second wave of death must drive discussions on Sunday towards cooperation, compromise, and creative responses to getting more aid into the Irrawaddy Delta,? said Sara Ireland, Oxfam?s regional director for East Asia, Sarah Ireland.

?Some aid is getting through and there are signs that more will be delivered but not in enough quantity and not quickly enough. The aid bridge that ASEAN has begun to create into Myanmar must rapidly become a highway wide enough to meet the needs of the people in the hardest hit areas,? she said.

After weeks of uncertainty about how to get access to assist those affected by Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN on Monday announced that it would lead a coordinating mechanism that would work closely with the UN to get more aid into Myanmar.

?The ASEAN initiative is a real chance to begin the turnaround for the people of Myanmar. The donor community must also seize this opportunity and fully support it,? Ireland said.

?This is going to be a long haul and a massive aid effort will be needed as part of the ASEAN mechanism and the international aid community, which includes aid workers and agencies from many countries around the world, will need to support and assist in this effort with technical expertise, experience and skills.?

Ireland said that while aid has reached some people in the delta region, major gaps remain in the level and speed of the response?particularly in crucial areas of clean water, shelter, emergency food, and medical supplies.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 500,000 people lost their homes in the cyclone. According to the UN, only 150,000 were in government or other shelters. This needs to be addressed urgently, Oxfam said.

The agency said with only 250,000 of 750,000 people in need of urgent food reached with a two-week ration of rice, food aid was vital according to the UN World Food Program. According to nutrition research by Save the Children, 30,000 children in the delta are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and will die by the first week of June unless this food gap is filled.

With the fast-approaching monsoon season and the end of the planting season in five to seven weeks, prompt action is necessary if further unnecessary suffering is to be avoided.

Oxfam said while ASEAN was working to resolve issues around access into the country it was vital that donors and aid agencies worked to help ensure access within the country to the hardest hit areas, particularly along the waterways and the dirt roads that have been all but washed away.

Given their experience in responding to disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and Pakistan earthquake in 2005, Oxfam said its staff members and their skills could play a significant role in supporting ASEAN.

In Myanmar, people?s resistance to disease is weakened daily because of lack of food and shelter, exposure to the elements, and drinking surface water that is likely to be contaminated with human and animal waste. This creates a breeding ground for diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

With people exposed to the elements, huddled together in crowded areas and suffering from hunger other risks such as measles, chest infections, pneumonia and diphtheria could devastate already weakened people, especially the very young and weak.

?As representatives from rich world governments meet this weekend they must harness ASEAN's task force and offer it financial and skilled support so that there are no further delays in getting help to those people who so desperately need it,? Ireland said.

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