Friday, May 23, 2008

Project Enlighten Preparing to send Second Shipment of Emergency Aid into Burma

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’ is still in need of donations to keep the aid supplies going into the devastated areas.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Project Enlighten’s First $4000US in Emergency Aid Reaches Burmese Cyclone Victims in the Delta!

May 18th, 2008

Our Team at Project Enlighten is happy to report that today, the first $4000US in emergency relief supplies are being distributed to a few of the 2.5 million people left clinging to survival by the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. This cyclone flooded an area of the Burma delta region the size of Austria.

The transport was loaded at the border, and then again in Rangoon, Burma, with supplies funded by Project Enlighten, The Rescue Task Force and a local monk’s organization.

ABITSU, the Burmese organization here, organized all ground operations into Burma’s delta region. Only Burmese can gain access into the military blocked delta areas.

It is only a minute fraction of the massive amount of relief that is needed for this area, but any relief which will save the lives of some is worth the effort. Project Enlighten is asking for your donations to fund more of these trucks of emergency supplies into the delta.

The official death toll reported Friday from the disaster now sits at 77,738 dead and 55,917 missing but most experts say the figure is likely to be far higher. The Red Cross says the cyclone may have killed 128,000.

This natural disaster has now turned into a man-made disaster due to the military junta’s refusal in allowing foreign aid into the delta region.

US, British and French warships loaded with helicopters, ambulances, small watercraft and emergency supplies sit waiting in international waters 30 minutes off the delta coast. They will sit there until permission is granted to enter. So far the Burmese military has said no.

A total of only 20 US cargo flights filled with emergency aid have been allowed to land at Rangoon airport. 24 such cargo flights PER DAY are what are required. There have been reports of many of these aid supplies being sold to civilians at high prices in Rangoon and used for the military’s own use as well.

General Than Shwe, the ruling general of Burma, is now accused of committing crimes against humanity. There are reports of forced labor and low food supplies at the state run refugee centres. I spoke with a reporter yesterday who provided me with a contact number to report any first-hand accounts of human rights abuses to Amnesty International.

In the past few days torrential tropical downpours have lashed Burma’s cyclone hit Irrawaddy delta. Thousands of destitute victims go to the roadsides begging for help to supplement the meager trickle of aid flowing in. Over 30,000 children were already suffering from malnutrition before the disaster.

Many cylone victims have come down with diarrhea, dysentery and skin infections. Dangers of outbreaks of cholera, dengue fever and malaria are escalating.

Last week, China immediately opened its doors to the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from around the world to those affected by the devastating earthquake. Until the ruling military in Burma does likewise, many will die from starvation and disease.

This afternoon UK Minister Lord Malloch-Brown announced from Rangoon, that a possible comprimise has been struck that the "Burmese can work with", whereas world relief donations could be directed into Burma through neighboring countries.

By making a donation to ‘Project Enlighten’s Burma Cyclone Emergency Relief Fund’, , you help supply emergency aid that is taken to the delta area.

Every hour counts!

Lisa McCoy, Project Enlighten Team Member, Mae Sot, Thailand