UN calls aid response to Giri ‘rapid, decisive action’

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Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A swift coordinated response between the Burmese government, international NGOs and local organizations after Cyclone Giri hit Burma last year helped saves thousands of lives, according to the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma.

Cyclone Giri hit Burma’s Arakan state on October 22, 2010, causing more than 100,000 people to lose their homes.

According to the report released on Tuesday at a Myanmar Humanitarian Partnership Group meeting, a monthly meeting in Rangoon attended by donors, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations and other members of the humanitarian community in Burma, the collaborative effort between all parties involved ‘helped meet the basic needs of many of the estimated 260,000 people affected by the disaster’.

The report said a ‘prolonged crisis was largely averted due to the response and close coordination between national and regional authorities and humanitarian partners, including the local communities’.

Despite a rapid and cooperative response to the natural disaster, the area devastated by the cyclone is still in dire need of development aid in the areas of shelter, food security and livelihood, the statement stressed.

The memory of Cyclone Nargis, which wreaked deadly havoc in Burma in 2008, killing an estimated 140,000 people, is still fresh in observers’ minds. It is estimated that 2.4 million people in Ayeyarwady and Yangon divisions were adversely affected by Nargis.

Many hold the Burmese regime’s slow response to the Nargis disaster accountable for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Burmese, because the regime denied foreign aid and international aid workers entry into Burma immediately. The regime turned away planes loaded with medicines and emergency health kits at Rangoon airport, and British, American and French navy ship crews carrying water purification systems and emergency food, shelter and clothing supplies were not allowed to disembark on Burmese shores.

However, six months after Cyclone Giri made landfall, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, Parajuli, noted the regime’s change in attitude: ‘While these events represented severe losses and grief for the population, they also resulted in increased cooperation between the government, the international community and local organizations, which enables us to do more and respond faster, thereby saving lives’.

According to the UN statement, since 2008 the Burmese government has cooperated with the humanitarian and development aid community and has invested in disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness measures and programmes in support of communities, in order to reduce their vulnerability and increase their readiness in case of disasters.

‘What we experienced after Cyclone Giri was a rapid, decisive action rooted in a common understanding of the importance of cooperation and coordination’, said Parajuli. ‘Community-awareness and evacuations reduced the scale of disaster, and relief aid was immediately deployed, with the generous support of the international donor community’.

The statement also mentioned the powerful earthquake that hit southern Shan state in March, ‘another reminder that Myanmar is a disaster-prone country’.

International donors have given more than US $31 million for relief and early recovery so far. The UN estimates that $46 million is still needed for the early and medium-term recovery. A total of $ 57 million for aid was identified in an inter-agency post-Giri action plan presented in February, according to the statement.

The monthly Myanmar Humanitarian Partnership Group meeting on Tuesday was attended by more than 80 experts, heads of missions and agencies, diplomats and aid workers.

Aye Win, the national information officer for the UN Information Centre in Rangoon, told Mizzima: ‘Let’s just say that there have been opportunities to learn from Nargis, also Giri, and more recently the earthquake in Shan State. There is a lot more understanding and cooperation and coordination also amongst the local authorities and the humanitarian partners that are working in these areas. That’s not to say that there aren’t any challenges, or that it is perfect. There are challenges, there are gaps to be filled’.

But, he said, there is now ‘some understanding of what cooperation and coordination entails’.