Thursday, 29 May 2008

Asean-led mechanism a waste of time

By Solomon
Editing by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The lives of many survivors are at stake and many are dying because of the slow pace at which Burma's military rulers are allowing relief supplies and aid workers to reach cyclone-hit regions, campaigners and local aid workers said.

"The situation demands a large number of international aid workers or experts," said a local aid worker, who has been supplying relief material to victims in Irrawaddy region.

Saving lives is now akin to 'a race against time' and more aid workers as well as an abundant supply of relief materials are needed as the majority of cyclone survivors still have not received aid, she added.

"They (expert aid workers) are needed to monitor aid supply and to make sure that it reaches the right people at the right time," the aid worker, who declined to be named, said.

She said despite several aid agencies already working to help the cyclone victims, the extent of devastation and the people affected by the cyclone does not match the amount of aid that has so far reached the area.

Despite Than Shwe's promise to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that international aid workers will be allowed to enter the cyclone affected areas 'regardless of nationality', aid groups said only a few of their expatriate aid workers have so far received permission to go into the Irrawaddy delta, the region most affected by the cyclone.

Paul Risley the spokesperson of World Food Programme in Bangkok said, "Our country director travelled yesterday and spent last night in Laputta and came back today. That was the first overnight stay by international staff from WFP in the delta."

He said the WFP, with a few international aid workers who arrived recently, has 26 international staff members in Rangoon now.

"We got visas for seven of our staff here in Bangkok on Monday. Several staff members are travelling today and tomorrow," Risley said.

He also said they are hoping to send in several international staff members from Rangoon to cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta's Laputta, Pyapon, Bogale and other towns for a long term or over several weeks.

"We have received permission for them to travel there [Irrawaddy delta]," Paul Risley said.

However, the progress in the UN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Burmese government's agreement is too little, an advocacy group Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean Burma) said.

"The progress is tardy and it is just not enough," Debbie Stothard, Coordinator of the Altsean Burma said. "They (UN) are allowing Than Shwe to keep holding the people as hostages."

"The problem now is not the suffering because of the cyclone but the problem is because of the junta, they are a bigger disaster than Cyclone Nargis," said Debbie Stothard.

Amanda Pitt, spokesperson of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Bangkok, however, said there has been some progress made on the promise made by Burma's military rulers.

"The process is progressing but it is too early to say," Pitt told Mizzima, declining further comment on what the progress was.

But not withstanding the UN's acknowledgement that there are signs of progress in terms of getting aid to the most affected people, Mark Farmaner Director of Burma Campaign UK said, Burma's rulers have lied on their agreement with the UN chief.

"We have information that there is no proper access to the delta. In London aid workers have had their visas turned down," Farmaner, the London based campaigner said.

"Ban Ki-moon's efforts have failed to secure a breakthrough which was needed," he added.

Meanwhile, in a ridiculous development, the Burmese Embassy in India's capital city of New Delhi has told a few Indian social workers, who have volunteered to go into Burma to help cyclone victims, that their visa process would take at least two months.

In Rangoon, international aid workers, who have been given visas for entry, are reportedly sitting in their office, as the government has not yet cleared their documents to let them into the delta region, Mizzima's correspondent said.

But the correspondent said in a significant move six UNICEF workers have been let into delta on Tuesday.

But the correspondent, who went visiting offices of international aid agencies, described the scene at the office saying, "International staff members are still sitting in the offices sipping coffee and tea in Rangoon."

But in the Delta, where the cyclone hit the hardest, people are seen lining up on the roadside waiting for vehicles that may carry relief supplies, local aid workers said.

The local aid worker, who talked to Mizzima over telephone said, "There is not enough food and relief supplies for the people and many more are without any aid as we cannot afford to go everywhere."

Debbie Stothard from Altsean said, this is the time for the international community to act but they are playing games with the rules set by the military government.

"It is no time for diplomacy, it is time to be realistic, it is time to tell the truth about what is going on," she added.

No comments: