Burma/Myanmar After Nargis: Time to Normalise Aid Relations,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, argues that the recent cooperation has proved that it is possible to work with the military regime on humanitarian issues and to deliver assistance in an effective and accountable way. If the current opening can be used to build confidence and lay the basis for a more effective aid structure, it may be possible not only to meet the immediate needs, but also to begin to address the broader crisis of governance and human suffering.
"Political reform remains vital but withholding aid has done nothing to promote this", says John Virgoe, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director. "Aid is valuable in its own right for alleviating suffering, as well as a potential means of opening up a closed country, improving governance and empowering people to take control of their own lives".
The government's initial response to cyclone Nargis shocked the world, with international agencies and local donors denied access to the affected areas. But, little noticed, the situation subsequently improved markedly, to the point where the UN humanitarian chief was able to describe it in July as "a normal international relief operation". Communication between the government and international agencies has much improved. Visas and travel permits today are easier and faster to get than before. Requirements for the launch of new aid projects have been eased. By and large, the authorities are making efforts to facilitate aid, including allowing a substantial role for civil society.
The international community should commit to continuing its support for post-cyclone recovery. But Myanmar faces a much deeper developmental crisis, with millions of households living on the edge of survival. Donors should end aid restrictions, which have seen Myanmar receiving twenty times less assistance than similar countries - and which have weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change. This means more aid, but also different aid, aimed at raising income and education as well as health levels, fostering civil society and improving economic policy and governance.
"Aid alone will not bring sustainable human development, never mind peace and democracy", says Robert Templer, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director. "Yet, due to the limited links between Myanmar and the outside world, aid has unusual importance as an arena of interaction among the government, society and the international community".
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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.