May 23, 2008 - Mae Sot, Thailand
It's now been 3 weeks since Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, and almost two weeks since my arrival to the Thai-Burma border. So far, only about 20% of the people affected by the cyclone have been reached.
Everyday, there have been some increases and allowances to the limited aid which the Burmese military government will permit into Burma for those estimated 2.5 million in desperate need.
Today, a major possible breakthrough was announced resulting from the two hour meeting between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe – “to allow all foreign aid workers into Burma”. The next few days will tell how broad that allowance will be, and what stipulations placed by the Burmese authorities it may entail. There have been hundreds of foreign aid workers that have been in Bangkok for days, waiting for visas to allow them entry into Burma. I have two friends among them, who I am keeping in contact with. It is yet to be seen how quickly the foreign aid workers will be allowed in, and if they will have access to the delta, which up until now, they have not.
As a team member of ‘Project Enlighten’, and as a Rotarian, my first thoughts were ‘how can I go in and help?’. I want to explore any possibilities that could put me of use inside Burma.
Thanks to the generous donations made by many of you, ‘Project Enlighten’, is now getting ready to send its second shipment of emergency supplies into the cyclone-hit areas. I have posted some of the many photos of aid being distributed to cyclone survivors. These photos were taken by the ABITSU Burmese volunteers working inside Burma. These convoys of small trucks went into two districts of need in Burma, Twantay and Kongyangone.
About 600 more photos arrived today, of similar convoys from the first shipment which ‘Project Enlighten’ helped to fund.
This method of using Burmese NGOs in place along the border to distribute the aid into Burma has been effective from the start, and continues to be so. Since the tragedy occurred, Rangoon’s private citizens, monks and organizations have been taking whatever supplies they can into the cyclone-hit areas. Some of it is perhaps not adequate, but they are determined to help their fellow Burmese in any way they can.
I witnessed first-hand such instances of humanitarian compassion, coordination, and heroism during the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami on the coasts and islands of southern Thailand.
Residents of the Irrawaddy delta in Burma have long foraged for their food from the sea and the land. There are reports that they are coping as best as they can with the situation at hand, finding what food they can and making shelters with the remnants they find. They are focusing on survival, but the IRC (International Rescue Committee) still reports concerns of a second wave of deaths, larger than the first as a result of water-borne diseases.
On May 22nd, Doctors Without Borders in Burma reported “The human suffering has been enormous. There are still lots of dead bodies, no food, no shelter.”
Take a moment to picture this.
Let’s hope that the world will be indeed allowed to enter into Burma and assist in this crisis. In the meantime ‘Project Enlighten’ www.projectenlighten.org is still in need of donations to keep the aid supplies going into the devastated areas.