Saturday, October 20, 2007

International Aid Groups Ask Junta to Eliminate Barriers


US President George Bush has called on the junta to make good on its promises and allow humanitarian groups to enter Burma. Humanitarian aid is greatly needed in a country where social services are barely visible. One example of the great suffering in the country can be seen through government expenditure. While more than 50% of the national budget is spent on the military, less than 2% is spent on healthcare. The educational system is a shambles, and 40% of children are malnourished. This is happening in a country that boasted one of the highest literacy rates in Asia and was the world's #1 rice exporter 50 years ago.

Before the crackdown, the International Committee of the Red Cross pulled out of the country, as the government impeded its work. Now, the junta is refusing the Red Cross access to detainees to survey prison conditions and to administer medical assistance.

Irrawaddy article HERE.

Thirteen humanitarian organizations working in Burma have called on the military government to allow international aid groups to help the poorest members of society who lack adequate health, education and food.

Inger Sandberg, an adviser to Norwegian People’s Aid, said, “The situation is getting worse, particularly for the poorest people after the oil and commodities price increases in Burma.”

The aid groups said the military regime's policies have weakened the ability of local communities to aid members of society who have fallen below subsistence levels.

The statement called for a more open working environment for local and international humanitarian organizations and a significant build up of humanitarian assistance to directly address the needs of the poor.

Presently, international and local humanitarian groups cannot respond to people's needs because of constraints put in place by the military government, sources said.

Organizations that signed the statement include the Action Contre la Faim, Aide Medicale Internationale, Asian Harm Reduction Network, Cooperazione e Sviluppo onlus, Deutsche Welthungerhilfe/German Agro Action, Enfants du Monde Droits de l'Hommes, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Malteser International, Medecins du Monde, Norwegian People's Aid, Population Services International, Save the Children and Terre des Hommes Italia.

The statement also urged the international community to increase efforts to address the humanitarian needs of the Burmese people.

The recent increase in fuel prices and commodities have exacerbated the already fragile living conditions faced by many Burmese citizens, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, the UN agency in charge of fighting hunger has issued a plea for the world to provide more food aid to the people of Burma.

About 5 million people are chronically short of food, according to the World Food Program, which tries to provide aid to 500,000 people each month. However, because of constraints, only 200,000 people now receive aid each month.

The UN estimates that more than one-third of Burmese children suffer from malnutrition and estimates about 100,000 die each year.