Myanmar Donor Conference must put people before political differences

Emergencies, Media Releases article written on the 22 May 2008

International agency Oxfam said today (May 22) that donor governments must make the promise of the ASEAN “aid bridge” a reality and the focus on getting desperately needed aid into Myanmar the one and only objective of this weekend’s meeting.
Oxfam Australia’s Director of Public Policy, James Ensor said that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar and that the threat of a second wave of death must drive discussions at the donor conference on Sunday.
He said that cooperation, compromise and a creative response was the way to get more aid into the Irrawaddy Delta.
“Some aid is getting through and there are signs that more will be delivered but not in enough quantity and not quickly enough. The aid bridge that ASEAN has begun to create into Myanmar must rapidly become a highway wide enough to meet the needs of the people in the hardest hit areas,” said Mr Ensor.
After weeks of uncertainty about how to get access to assist those affected by Nargis, ASEAN on Monday announced that they would lead a coordinating mechanism that would work closely with the UN to get more aid into Myanmar.
“The ASEAN initiative is a real chance to begin the turnaround for the people of Myanmar. The donor community must also seize this opportunity and fully support it,” Mr Ensor said.
“A long-haul and massive aid effort will be needed as part of the ASEAN mechanism. The international aid community, which includes aid workers from many countries and agencies around the world, need to support and assist in this effort with technical expertise, experience and skills.
“While aid has reached some people in the Delta region major gaps remain in the level and speed of the response – particularly in crucial areas of clean water, shelter, emergency food and medical supplies,” Mr Ensor said.
Aid agencies estimate that approximately 350,000 people still remain homeless. Oxfam said that homeless and hunger need to be addressed urgently. According to the UN World Food Programme only 250,000 of 750,000 people in need of urgent food had been reached with a two-week ration of rice. Food aid was vital. With the fast-approaching monsoon season and the end of the planting season in 5 to 7 weeks, prompt action is necessary if further unnecessary suffering is to be avoided.
Oxfam said while ASEAN was working to resolve issues around access into the country it was vital that donors and aid agencies worked to help ensure access within the country to the hardest hit areas, particularly along the waterways and the dirt roads that have been all but washed away.
“As representatives from rich world governments meet this weekend they must harness ASEAN’s task force and offer it financial and skilled support so that there are no more delays in getting help to those people who so desperately need it,” Mr Ensor said.
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