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Getting aid to Myanmar still a struggle

John Dimsdale May 9, 2008
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Getting aid to Myanmar still a struggle

John Dimsdale May 9, 2008
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TEXT OF STORY:

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.

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