This is a guest post from deepali of paradigm shifted. She has been following the situation in Myanmar/Burma since long before the Cyclone Nargis hit and agreed to post about what’s going on there now and how you can help. This a follow-up to my post on charitable giving and telemarketing.
On May 2nd, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in the Irrawaddy Delta of Burma. It is probably the most devastating natural disaster to hit the country, and while mortality in such situations is notoriously hard to measure, almost 50,000 are confirmed dead. The Red Cross and others estimate the death toll might peak around 125,000.
But even more alarming is the non-fatal damage done to the region: more than 1.5 million people have lost their homes (in a country of less than 50 million), and agricultural capacity has diminished considerably. What used to be considered the “Rice Bowl” of the British Empire is practically unrecognizable now.
To complicate matters, Burma is currently under the control of a military junta that has been denounced by almost every country in the world. Under the junta, social services spending is near $0 per capita, so poverty, poor health, and lack of basic freedoms run rampant. Its democratically elected leader (and Nobel Prize winner), Ang San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 18 years. Immediately following the cyclone, the world rushed in to deliver aid… and was promptly shut out.
It has now been 2 weeks since Nargis hit, and there has been little improvement seen. Aid packages have made their way into the country (after getting hung up at customs), but aid workers themselves are still being denied access. A few development organizations are allowed to operate in Burma, and they have stepped in to fill the gap. As the government slowly allows aid into the country, these groups are struggling to deliver the needed supplies to the million-plus people who have lost everything.
Relief work is expensive. While those displaced by the cyclone are not officially considered refugees, they are living in refugee-like situations. Under the circumstances, there are minimum standards that need to be met to ensure their well-being. And as food and fuel costs soar, the cost of emergency relief goes sky-high. As a result, many of the groups working to assist survivors of the cyclone are running out of funds. And to make matters worse, a second cyclone is developing in the Bay of Bengal, and could make landfall next week.
Under normal circumstances, donations in the case of a natural disaster are easy. The usual suspects of relief work are capable, organized, and efficient. Under these circumstances, however, it’s not quite so easy. While some charities have people already on the ground, they are not aid workers. They can distribute supplies, but they are not generally trained to resolve crises that result from a disaster. Until the government allows aid workers full access to the region, humanitarian assistance will consist of small organizations operating locally.
There are a number of worthwhile organizations currently responding to the disaster. Some of them are local Burmese organizations, operating at great risk to themselves. Thus, many of them remain anonymous. They are in dire need of funds, and you can assist them by sending donations to their partners:
Avaaz.Org is working with the International Burmese Monks Association.
GHAP has a number of local partners, with whom I have had personal interaction/
Both of these groups work in both the short- and medium-term. In the medium-term only, the US Campaign for Burma has partners on the ground as well. Funds should be designated for the cyclone specifically.
There are also a few international organizations who have a presence in Burma with long-term projects. These organizations also have rapid deployment teams who are currently awaiting permission to enter the country. In the meantime, those on the ground are stepping in. Of these groups, Save the Children and CARE International have the largest relief efforts. MSF (aka Doctors Without Borders) is currently stepping up its operations as it receives permission to enter the country.
There are also some well-known relief groups who will be entering the country imminently, such as the Red Cross.
And finally, Google has stepped up to assist the fundraising effort. They have chosen two organizations who work in the medium- and long-term (the period after a disaster when donations and foreign aid are reduced to a trickle) to support. Your donations to these organizations are being matched by funds from Google.
All of these are worthwhile organizations working under hostile and dire conditions. Despite the lack of cooperation from the military junta, these organizations are ignoring politics and focusing on what matters the most – helping people in need.