NW agencies are getting disaster aid to Myanmar
With news reports continuing that Myanmar's government is stopping much cyclone aid from getting through, the question emerges: Are donations...
Seattle Times staff reporter
With news reports continuing that Myanmar's government is stopping much cyclone aid from getting through, the question emerges: Are donations actually doing any good?
Yes, Pacific Northwest-based agencies say. Supplies and people are getting through — although with limitations.
World Vision, based in Federal Way, which has worked in Myanmar for 40 years and has more than 580 people there — most Myanmar citizens — is one of a handful of international agencies that has been granted relatively free access by Myanmar's ruling junta.
That means the agency's local staff people have not been arrested, have been able to get supplies through roadblocks, and are able to do some assessment and relief work, said Jeffery Wright, a World Vision senior program officer.
Even so, he said, there are "all sorts of caveats."
While World Vision's Burmese staff people have been able to go to some of the most devastated areas, its international staffers have not. Assessments have consisted of taking a few photographs and having random conversations, rather than the more thorough questionnaires the organization would prefer.
Still, "it's not as black and white as people are hearing in the media," Wright said. "They are letting some aid through."
That's been the case for other aspects of the relief effort too, Wright said. "There are periods in which a couple of foreigners will get visas. Then that will shut down. Same with locals being able to get supplies into the hard-hit areas. There are a couple of days when people get arrested, then that will relax."
Even so, World Vision estimates it's given aid to about 135,000 people, whether that be water-purification sachets, rice or tarps. It hopes to reach half a million people in the next six months.
The organization has received inquiries from companies and individuals who want to donate in-kind materials, Wright said. World Vision is taking down their names but isn't accepting materials just now.
The Myanmar government hasn't given permission for World Vision's large chartered cargo flights to land, nor has it given a guarantee that the aid organization would be able to maintain possession of the supplies to distribute to survivors directly.
"Cash is by far the preferred thing," Wright said.
On that front, World Vision has raised more than $10 million so far, including $5.5 million in the U.S. Its goal is to raise $19 million overall.
Wright said he was seeing hopeful signs after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit Friday, during which Myanmar's ruling junta said it would allow foreign aid workers in.
But "it remains to be seen exactly what that will look like," Wright said.
Seattle-based World Concern, which has about 200 workers in Myanmar, said it obtained visas for two more foreign staff members this week and most of its local staffers are able to get to cyclone-affected areas. It's been working mainly with local groups to distribute relief supplies to about 60,000 people.
Portland-based Mercy Corps, which did not have a significant presence in Myanmar, is partnering with local groups to funnel aid in, and to provide local farmers and fishermen with equipment they'd lost in the cyclone.
Aid is getting through, said Mervyn Lee, Mercy Corps' executive director of its European headquarters. But normally, Mercy Corps would have its own people in critical areas. Though information is coming in from local staff, "we're operating, if you like, with our eyes closed," Lee said. "It's frustrating, not only for donors, but for us at the moment because we can't grasp the problem as we would want to. ... But what we can do is work within the limitations."
Mercy Corps has raised about $1 million for relief efforts. It shipped more than 9 tons of emergency supplies out of Seattle earlier this week.
The bottom line, Lee said, is money is still needed. "We'll work around the frustrations."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:01 AM
Rebels tighten hold on Libya oil port
UPDATE - 09:29 AM
Reality leads US to temper its tough talk on Libya
UPDATE - 09:38 AM
2 Ark. injection wells may be closed amid quakes
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.