Monday, 18 November 2019

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Aid trickles in despite desperate need of Nargis victims


Bangkok (Mizzima) - Eighteen months after Cyclone Nargis, which killed at least 140,000 people, hundreds of thousands of survivors remain in desperate need, according to the United Nations.

More than 170,000 people are still without adequate shelter, while the vast majority of the farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta devastated by last year’s cyclone, are slipping into enormous debt, the head of the UN operations in Burma, Bishow Parajuli told Mizzima on Wednesday.

“There is an enormous funding gap, between the acute needs of the people on the ground and the financial support available from international donors for reconstruction programmes,” he said. “But work is going on, building is going on, though more needs to be done.”

Recovery takes a long time the UN resident humanitarian coordinator warned, after the Post-Nargis and Regional Partnership Conference in Bangkok pledged more than $88 million dollars for the priority areas identified by in the Tripartite Core Group – which includes ASEAN, the UN and the Burmese government.

This fell well short of the total appeal launched at the conference for $103 million for the revised Action Plan. “This is the single most important challenge we are now facing, the lack of funding,” Mr Parajuli stressed.  

The level of commitment from the international community has fallen well short of the amount of funding that was made available for Indonesia after the enormous Tsunami disaster in 2004, relief workers point out. Burma has received less than 10 percent of what was allocated there.

Each international appeal that has been made has fallen far short – even the original UN flash appeal for the immediate rescue and recovery stage. Less than 70% of the $477 million required, was forthcoming.

“There is no doubt that the international community’s generosity has been tempered by the regime’s political position, particularly the continued detention of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN general-secretary admitted to Mizzima.    

Earlier this year the ASEAN-led TCG launched its Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Pan (PONREPP) that estimated more than $ 690 million was needed in the next three years (2009-2011).

After only a fraction of the projected needs were committed, the ASEAN foreign ministers at their summit meeting in July in the Thai resort of Phuket suggested that a priority action plan should be prepared for the six months period up until June 2010 – when in fact the TCG is scheduled to be wound up. This appeal is part of the original one launched in February, but failed to attract any real interest from the international community.    

So far more than $ 88 million has been promised by donors who attended the Bangkok meeting on Wednesday. The pledges came from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, the European Commission, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

These funds will be used to provide 17,800 new houses, 40 new schools, 16 cyclone shelters, support livelihood programmes for a million people, and provide water and sanitation for 800,000 people.

This will also cover building education facilities for 35,000 students and providing 900,000 individuals with health services.

“The cost of underinvestment is huge,” said Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), “and failure to provide adequate funds will create greater and deeper poverty for the people who survived the cyclone.”

“While much has been done, there are many affected communities across the Delta who are still highly vulnerable and require urgent continued humanitarian assistance, especially in the areas of shelter, livelihoods, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and health,” Dr Surin told a press conference on Wednesday.

The work in the Delta is virtually endless, Mr Parujali told Mizzima in an exclusive interview. Even with the funding, more than 150,000 people are still without shelter. Only a fraction of the schools damaged or destroyed during the cyclone have been rebuilt. “This means many children are not at school and missing out on education, which will limit their future employment chances,” he said. Health facilities in the area are totally inadequate, with 90% of mothers giving birth at home,” he said. “This is unsafe and unacceptable, but at present there is no alternative.”    

Politics should be separated from humanitarian issues, according to Mr Parujali. There are bureaucratic problems, the UN head admitted. “But we cannot give up for the peoples’ sake. We must build trust and confidence, and demonstrate by example.”

“I wish it was easier, I wish we could do more, I wish the trust and confidence was greater.”  

“But much has been done over the last 18 months,” Mr Parajuli insisted. “We have been able to effectively, transparently and accountably deliver substantial aid and assistance to those in need.”

Many of the donors agree. “Relief operations have been effective and timely, and aid delivery has been transparent and accountable,” said David Lipman, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Commission in Bangkok. The EU has been one of the largest contributors to some of the post-cyclone appeals.

But some analysts believe aid and development to Burma, while the military regime is in control, is a total waste of money. “Almost all the virtues necessary for aid to be effective - accountability, transparency, political and humanitarian 'space', mechanisms for speedy delivery, and so on -- are missing in Burma,” Sean Turnell, a Professor of Economics at Macquarie University told Mizzima.

“On top of all of this, is the question of to what extent aid really reaches those who in need, and what proportion just helps prop up dysfunctional and repressive power structures.”

The massive indebtedness of farmers in the Delta is fast becoming an insurmountable obstacle to recovery in the cyclone-hit areas. “Large landowners have had their holdings reduced, cannot afford agricultural inputs like seeds and fertiliser, and can no longer employ day labourers,” said Dr Heyzer. “Some have even become day labourers themselves.”

As a result unemployment and indebtedness are growing alarmingly in the Irrawaddy Delta. “Micro-credit is fundamental to recovery,” Mr Parajuli said. “The lack of credit is crippling the revival of the Delta,” said Mr Parajuli. “Money lenders are charging exorbitant interest rates of over 5 per cent per month, and often it is unavailable even at this high cost.”

“The extent of rural indebtedness in the Delta is truly alarming,” said Professor Turnell. “Resulting not just in hardship and the widespread alienation of land, but also it having an impact on agricultural productivity -- as many cultivators are cutting back on critical inputs (such as fertiliser) they can longer finance.”

Many economists agree that Burma is doomed to increasing poverty as long as the generals stay in power. “There is not a single country in the world that has achieved economic development via aid, or without economic reforms that incorporate at least some measure of reasonably secure property rights and freedom to trade,” Turnell told Mizzima.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Irrawaddy delta, one of the rice bowls of Burma, killing 140,000 people and destroyed 450,000 houses.

 

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