I want to share our current perceptions re the situation in
Myanmar/Burma in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis. I had the opportunity
today (Friday, May 9th) to participate in a working situation with several
dozen disaster response organizations, including the UN, US-AID, and the
major NGO’s such as CARE, SaveTheChildren, and others, gathered under the
auspices of InterAction, an organization of which Hands On Disaster Response
is a full member.
Physically, the storm was similar to cyclone Sidr that hit Bangladesh,
but while Bangladesh had implemented both a warning system and cyclone
shelters, contributing to a reduced death toll of about 4,000, Nargis will
have taken a much larger toll. Government official estimates as of today
were still in the range of 22,000; estimates from organizations represented
within the country range from 63,000 to well over 100,000; this would put
the loss of life in a similar category with the tsunami.
Myanmar is strictly controlled by a military government, and there is
limited responsiveness, to date, to be open to the international
humanitarian response agencies. Visas have been denied to most applicants,
offered aid has been refused, and a planeload of aid that landed was
rebuffed when it was discovered there was a journalist aboard.
NGO’s that have been represented within the country for dozens of years
are finding any non-Burmese citizens constrained to Yangon ( formerly
Rangoon) so that they cannot report to the outside world the extent of the
devastation. It is believed that anyone not on a business visa, discovered
doing relief work, will be deported, or jailed. Organizations like CARE,
WorldVision, and SaveTheChildren, which have as many as 500 people working
on regular programs in the country before Nargis, are unable to get visas
for non-Burmese staff. It appears that a few staff from Asian countries have
been approved, but slowly, and subject to change.
We will not be able to make any plan to consider a project in Myanmar
until registered NGO’s are able to flow their disaster experts into the
country, and then provide assessments of need. This will take several weeks,
and allow us to listen to how we might be able to gain access, and what we
might do. I have no doubt there will be needs for years to come, since the
impact will most likely be similar to the tsunami in terms of homes and
schools damaged, but we will have to be patient in our determination re
whether we will be able to go in, and when, and where, and with whom.
As an example Oxfam has been applying to become registered for months,
has asked for temporary registration, but is not optimistic they will
receive it; we have no reason to believe we will have official access at any
We will watch the general news re the country’s posture re international
assistance, and wait anxiously for the first trustworthy reports from
assessment teams with disaster expertise, and participate in daily
information sharing within the disaster response community, but I am not
optimistic that news will be quick, or positive.
We will update www.hodr.org at least weekly, or sooner if there are
- David Campbell
Executive Director, Hands On Disaster Response
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