Myanmar Cyclone response: questions and answers

Emergencies, Media Releases article written on the 16 May 2008

What are the total funds committed by Oxfam to the Myanmar cyclone response?
Worldwide, Oxfam has already committed USD$1.8 million as our initial response to the cyclone in Myanmar which includes funds channelled through other agencies working on the ground to identify the most urgent humanitarian needs.
What can you tell us about you partner agencies in Myanmar?
We have now made grants to organisations working inside Myanmar to deliver relief to tens of thousands of people in the Irrawaddy and Yangon regions. These organisations have excellent networks of national staff and volunteers who can move freely around the country. They are distributing essential life-saving items such as rice, beans and oil, drinking water, soap, clothes, family first aid kits, and plastic sheeting for emergency shelter. They are also repairing damaged wells and providing basic sanitation facilities – activities essential for preventing the spread of disease.
One of Oxfam’s local partners has been rushing life-saving aid such as food, blankets and medical treatment to more than 68,000 survivors of the devastating cyclone.
When does Oxfam expect to be granted humanitarian access to Myanmar?
It’s not clear yet when or if we will be granted humanitarian access. But what we know is the humanitarian needs on the ground are huge and if we’re permitted to directly respond to the crisis we’re confident we can make an immediate impact on reducing the risk of disease and saving the lives of vulnerable men, women and children.
After all, we and other agencies have decades of experience responding to humanitarian disasters and especially providing water and sanitation to disaster affected people. For example, if our water engineers were allowed access to Myanmar we could be operational within about 60 hours pumping clean water to thousands of people – that’s based on our experience in previous emergencies such as the Bangladesh floods and Indian Ocean tsunami.
Is Oxfam prepared if permitted to work in Myanmar?
Yes, absolutely. We have pre-positioned relief supplies and equipment and have a significant number of people in the region and globally on standby in case we’re able to run a significant humanitarian program in Myanmar.
Is Oxfam frustrated that you can’t get aid to people in Myanmar?
This is a difficult situation for us. Oxfam is very concerned for the millions of men, women and children affected by this disaster. Oxfam and others have the experience and expertise to save lives and make a difference following a disaster like this, and we’d obviously welcome a chance to play our part assisting those people affected. Meanwhile we’ll continue to support our partners on the ground so they can continue their life-saving work.
Why is it necessary for aid agencies to have access to Myanmar?
It is doubtful that even the world’s richest countries could handle a disaster on this scale. The destruction is on a scale rivaling that of the Indian Ocean tsunami and already the number of deaths is reported to be at least 100,000. Oxfam and others believe that Myanmar will need massive support from international aid agencies skilled in disaster response. And that’s why we support a call to lift visa restrictions on international aid agencies wanting to assist disaster affected people in Myanmar.
But should Oxfam be raising money when it doesn’t have access to Myanmar?
It is true that Oxfam is accepting donations from the public even though we’re not able to directly provide life-saving assistance to the millions of affected men, women and children. However we’re able to channel funds through our partners on the ground. Already we’ve provided in grants to organisations working on the ground, and that’s just the start of it.
What are likely needs of the people in cyclone affected areas?
Based on past experience we know roughly what to expect but every situation is different. It’s the basics for life such as clean water sources, food and shelter as well other items such as mosquito nets, buckets for collecting water and soap.
Oxfam has said up to 1.5 million people are in danger. Do you mean they are going to die? Aren’t you being alarmist?
We are not saying that 1.5 million people will die. What Oxfam’s saying is that we’re extremely concerned that there is a high risk of a public health catastrophe in Myanmar because hundreds of thousands of affected people cannot access safe water sources and sanitation. We know from previous disaster responses that it’s crucial during the early days to get as much clean water and sanitation to the affected population. We know this because we have decades of experience responding to manmade and natural disasters as well as the technical knowhow and competency in delivering safe water and sanitation to disaster affected people.
Does Oxfam believe that air drops of relief supplies into Myanmar will be useful?
Air drops are likely to be ineffective and there’s no way of guaranteeing relief supplies will reach the most vulnerable. Relying solely on air power to deliver aid is also extremely expensive.
A much better solution is for agencies such as Oxfam and others to be allowed to work in Myanmar and to do what they do best, and that’s to ensure the targeted delivery of life-saving aid such as food, water and shelter to the most vulnerable. In our experience that is the best way to save lives and help people.

For further information, please call Melany Markham on 0407 515 559