Thursday, 12 June 2008


Souce from:Refugess International .
Contact: Joel Charny
Economic difficulties drove the dramatic September 2007 protests in Burma. In their aftermath, the international community is beginning to respond to the humanitarian needs of ordinary Burmese. The U.S. is a critical exception. While most analysts, including Refugees International, believe only a change in political leadership can address the structural causes of poverty in Burma, few forecast an end to the country’s political stalemate. The international community must do more to address the humanitarian needs of Burma’s 55 million people in the absence of political progress. Burma is widely believed to be one of the poorest countries in the world. The UN Development Program estimates that GDP per capita in Burma is the 13th lowest in the world. The average Burmese family spends 75% of that meager income on securing adequate food supplies. Less than 50% of children complete primary school and according to UNICEF under-5 child mortality averages 104 per 1,000 children, the second-highest rate outside Africa, after Afghanistan. Burma also has the highest HIV rates in Southeast Asia, and malaria, a treatable and preventable disease, is still the leading cause of mortality and morbidity. Western donor governments, until recently, have opted to impose broad-based sanctions, including limiting humanitarian and development assistance to minimal levels, to pressure the government into reforms. While the government has shown indifference to the West and its policies, the impact on Burma’s population is undeniable. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Burma receives less overseas development assistance, a mere $2.88 per person, than any of the poorest 50 countries. The average assistance in this tier of countries is more than $58 per person. Other countries with similarly repressive governments routinely receive much larger assistance packages: Sudan ($55/person); Zimbabwe ($21/person); Laos ($63/person). In the past year, there has been an important shift by European donors to address this anomaly and to increase humanitarian assistance to the country. Increased humanitarian aid has been matched by a tightening of sanctions targeted specifically at the economic activities of government officials and their cronies. This carrot and stick approach recognizes that broad-based sanctions often hurt average Burmese more than the ruling regime, but validates the legitimacy of sanctions as a tool to pressure rogue regimes. A lack of political progress cannot justify the prolonged suffering of ordinary Burmese, who are in large part innocent victims of the prolonged political stalemate. To this end, the European Commission is allocating €26.6 million ($42 million) in assistance to Burma for 2008, and plans to increase that amount to €40 million ($63 million) by 2010. These funds are tightly restricted to humanitarian assistance and very limited development work. Financial, technical, and material assistance to Burmese government institutions is also strictly prohibited. The United Kingdom provides ₤9 million ($18 million) in humanitarian assistance in 2008, with plans to double that amount in three years. Also, in an effort to combat infectious disease, European donors, along with Australia, have funded the Three Diseases Fund, which combats malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, at $104 million over five years. Though these investments are welcome steps in the right direction, at its height in 2011, the total of Europe’s investment in Burma, if treated as all new money, will only raise Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) per capita by $2.16/person. Greater international commitment, including U.S. funding, will be needed to adequately address the basic needs of the Burmese people. U.S. policy makers in Washington maintain restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Burma, with minor exceptions for HIV and avian flu programs, in the belief that any aid provided to Rangoon-based agencies will inevitably prop up the government. U.S. officials most familiar with the country, those in Rangoon and in regional offices in Thailand, however, support greater humanitarian assistance inside Burma. Despite this view, Administration and Congressional staff who drive the U.S. sanctions policy have been reluctant to visit Burma, making it difficult for legitimate humanitarian actors to demonstrate the effectiveness of their work. UN and international NGOs working in Burma go to pains to ensure that their work does not benefit the regime. The World Food Program can detail its use of independent firms in its purchasing, transport, and delivery of food, and is transparent with donors about all contracts it holds to allay any concerns. Population Services International and Save the Children insist on similar transparency, and both agree that it is possible to work without compromising these principles. One NGO worker told RI that “the working conditions are terrible, but they are not prohibitive. Our operations in Darfur face more government restrictions and interference, and no one is talking about pulling out of Darfur.” Local staff and cooperation with local NGOs and community-based organizations underpin the operations of international agencies. Despite reports to the contrary, local staff of international agencies reported travelling without restrictions throughout the country. At the village level, rice banks, buffalo banks, health promoters, church groups, temple associations, and other informal, often unregistered entities have emerged as effective, independent partners for international organizations. Support for international work often translates directly into strengthening Burmese civil society. International NGOs working in Burma believe that the current environment, while difficult, will still allow for an incremental and progressive expansion of operations. Considerable capacity and an interest in expansion in the health and education sectors provide the greatest opportunities. There is also a need to expand the geographic scope of work, and many NGOs mention Northern Rakhine state as a top priority. In most cases, operational agencies as well as donors believe that a lack of funding, and not government restrictions, is the main limitation to expanding operations.
International funding to address Burma’s humanitarian problems supports agencies working inside the country and Thailand-based organizations working with refugees and providing cross-border assistance to conflict-affected areas in Burma that are inaccessible to organizations inside. Several major donors, notably the European Commission and the U.S., have approached the Burma situation as zero sum, meaning that any increase in funding on one side of the border threatens a decrease on the other. Britain’s Department for International Development sets a positive example by increasing its overall funding for Burma, retaining the flexibility to allocate increases wherever the need is greatest. Both Thai-based and Burma-based humanitarian operations are legitimate responses to the situation inside Burma, and both access needy populations that their counterparts cannot. Both deserve international support. The policies of some international donors must stop pitting one group of actors against the other in search of scarce funding resources. Donors should base their giving on need and the capacity to respond, not on where an organization is based. The aid organizations themselves need to make greater efforts to collaborate and exchange information quietly to ensure a more holistic approach to Burma’s problems. International donors are recognizing the tremendous need inside Burma and the obligation to end the humanitarian restrictions that constitute an additional punishment for the Burmese people. The U.S. is the glaring exception to this trend. The U.S. must re-think its Burma strategy and look at the European model of sanctions and assistance if it is to meet its goal of supporting the people of Burma. Policy Recommendations:
The U.S. government re-evaluate its policies for Burma, and join the U.K. and Europe in increasing support for independent humanitarian work inside the country with targeted sanctions on the Burmese leadership. Additional U.S. funding to programs inside Burma should not affect commitments to organizations based in Thailand.
U.S. Congressional staff and Administration officials travel to Burma to directly assess the situation, including the ability of the UN and NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance inside the country.
All organizations providing assistance inside Burma better document the breadth and depth of their operations to the greatest extent possible and better coordinate activities with collegial organizations.
Organizations inside Burma and working cross-border from Thailand work with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to increase information sharing and coordination of operations. As the only donor working on both sides of the border, the British Department for International Development should also play a leading role in encouraging coordination and dialogue.

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