Brussels, 10 September 2011 – Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, has just completed a two-day humanitarian mission to Burma/Myanmar. In Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon the Commissioner discussed the challenges of managing disasters and humanitarian problems with government representatives and humanitarian partners of the European Commission. Georgieva was also the first EU Commissioner to be received by Daw Aung San Suu Kui.
”The Commission is a large donor of humanitarian assistance in Burma/Myanmar, where a lot of people are vulnerable to earthquakes, cyclones and foods, conflict and poverty,” Commissioner Georgieva said. “Because of these risks, we need assurances that humanitarian agencies have full access to those who need relief and that the authorities are working to improve the population’s resilience to disasters. My discussions with ministers, with Daw Aung San Suu Kui and with humanitarian partners give me hope that we will be able to do more to tackle these challenges,” she explained.
The Commissioner met with the Minister of Border Affairs, the Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Georgieva presented the policy framework through which the European Union can support countries struck by disasters and stressed the need to boost disaster resilience in Burma/Myanmar, including with EU investment. She also highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access to the communities affected by conflict, particularly in border areas. She underlined that the Commission is eager to continue its substantial humanitarian support in the country, provided that its humanitarian partners get better access to the people in need so that they can assess their needs and deliver relief.
“I was encouraged that the authorities are willing to expand humanitarian access to more areas of Burma/Myanmar – and I hope to see a tangible sign of this commitment soon, in the form of permissions for humanitarian experts to visit and work in areas of substantial need,” Commissioner Georgieva said.
The Commissioner visited Daw Aung San Suu Kui, with whom she also spoke about humanitarian and disaster-related priorities. “Aung San Suu Kui is the face and the voice of the most vulnerable people in Burma/Myanmar. This is why, as the EU humanitarian commissioner, I was glad to have the opportunity to present to her our response to humanitarian challenges and disasters and to discuss how Europe can help the most needy people in the country in their quest for survival and development,” Georgieva said.
As in all her missions, the Commissioner also used her time in Burma/Myanmar to meet with humanitarian partners from the United Nations, the Red Cross and other organisations whose work in Burma/Myanmar is supported by Europeans through the Commission’s humanitarian aid budget. She visited the office of MEMU (Myanmar Emergency Mapping Unit), a Yangon-based hub supported by the European Commission, which prepares accurate and timely maps of priorities and challenges for the humanitarian and development community.
Commissioner Georgieva's visit took place against the background of the recent initiative of the EU to pursue high-level political dialogue with the new government in Burma/Myanmar, as well as with the opposition and civil society.
Burma/Myanmar is a country of complex vulnerabilities – recurrent conflicts in border areas and high frequency and risk of natural disasters, such as the Cyclone Nargiz which killed some 140,000 people in 2008. Combined with the challenges of poverty, these factors commit a high number of people to life in high risk and extreme vulnerability.
To alleviate these problems, the European Commission has been funding relief programs in Burma/Myanmar since 1994; in this period, the Commission has invested €110 million to respond to disasters, to bring relief in humanitarian emergencies and to improve the resilience to natural disaster risks. As of 2005, the Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department (ECHO) maintains an office in Yangon from where it facilitates the delivery of European relief aid.
In 2011 the European Commission is allocating over €22 million for humanitarian and disaster-related activities inside Burma/Myanmar and for support to refugees from the country in Thailand. In Burma/Myanmar, over a million people benefit from the assistance provided by the Commission, which supports basic health services, water and sanitation projects, food and nutrition assistance, relief to cyclone and earthquake survivors, and activities to mainstream disaster risk reduction. In addition, the Commission finances the vaccination of 3.7 million children by UNICEF, following a serious outbreak of polio.
The Commission focuses primarily on assisting the civilian victims of the protracted conflict between the army and rebellious ethnic minority groups in Burma/Myanmar’s border areas.
For more information
Commissioner Georgieva's website:
The European Commission's humanitarian aid:
Contacts : David Sharrock +32 2 296 89 09 Irina Novakova +32 2 295 75 17