Getting aid to Myanmar still a struggle

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    Burmese people wait for food at a temporary camp on May 9 in Kyacek Tan, about 30 miles south of the capital of Yangon.

    - Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

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    People line up for food at a refugee camp on May 9 in Kyacek Tan, about 30 miles south of the capital of Yangon, Myanmar.

    - Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

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    People line up for food at a refugee camp on May 9 in Kyacek Tan, about 30 miles south of Yangon, Myanmar, in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

    - Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

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    A family eats at a refugee camp on May 9 in Kyacek Tan, Myanmar. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 people were killed by Cyclone Nargis. International aid agencies are continuing efforts to deliver assistance to Myanmar, where an estimated 1 million people are homeless.

    - Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

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    Destroyed boats in the port of Yangon, Myanmar, on May 9. More than 1 million people are estimated to have been left homeless by Cyclone Nargis, which has killed tens of thousands.

    - Hla Hla Htay/AFP/Getty Images

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    Houses damaged by the killer Cylone Nargris in Bogalay, Myanmar, on May 9.

    - STR/AFP/Getty Images


TESS VIGELAND: It's been a week since that massive cyclone swamped the nation of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. So far, the International Red Cross says aid efforts have reached only 220,000 of the nearly two million survivors in need. The UN's World Food Program plans to send in two more relief flights tomorrow, despite the lack of cooperation from the military dictatorship.

From Washington, John Dimsdale reports international relief agencies are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the country's xenophobic rulers.

JOHN DIMSDALE: The military dictatorship fears an influx of relief workers will expose the regime's economic failures and encourage pro-democracy agitators, but Andrew Natsios, the former administrator of the US Agency for International Development, and now a professor at Georgetown University, says by slowing the humanitarian response, Myanmar's rulers are acting against their own self-interests.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Oddly enough, natural disasters can have profound political implications in countries that don't respond to them well. There is frequently regime changes that take place, and so by delaying the response, they're actually making themselves much more vulnerable to political unrest.

Tensions are rising as Burmese people line up for food and fuel, which have tripled in price since the cyclone. Natsios recommends sending vouchers to cyclone victims that can be cashed in at local food and furniture shops. Such vouchers would have violated US sanctions against Myanmar's government, but shortly after the cyclone, the Treasury Department lifted a ban on sending money to Myanmar. Before that, US sanctions had constrained relief operations, says CARE USA's Leslie Shad.

LESLIE SHAD: We definitely were not soliciting for broad Myanmar funding because we were afraid that if we opened our arms to Myanmar funding, we would get things we couldn't actually program.

Shad hopes the easing of US sanctions will allow CARE to use donations on such things as micro-lending development programs in Myanmar.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.


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