IHT: Even With Access, Distributing Aid in Myanmar is a Challenge

After meeting with the Secretary General last week, the Burmese military junta finally relented from their opposition to letting foreign aid workers into the country. Still, that doesn’t mean delivering that aid is easy in a country where the military tightly controls the economy. From the IHT:

An SUV for $250,000 and a cellular phone for $3,000. As foreign aid workers test Myanmar’s commitment to allow them to operate inside the country as part of the relief effort for Cyclone Nargis they face not only administrative hurdles erected by a xenophobic military government but an economy warped by years of misrule.

Myanmar’s military limits the sale of mobile phones, bans satellite phones, sharply restricts car imports and rations gasoline to one or two gallons (between 3.5 and 7 liters) a day. The main beneficiaries of this system are government employees and military officers, who profit by selling permits, gasoline and many other items on the black market.

Aid workers from the United Nations and private aid agencies continued Wednesday to travel into the Irrawaddy Delta, the area hardest hit by the May 3 cyclone, following an agreement last week reached with the Myanmar government. Richard Horsey, the spokesman for the UN relief effort, said the military was requiring aid workers to give 48 hours’ notice before traveling into the delta but that he was hearing only positive news about their access.
“I assume we will be running out of quite a lot of things when the influx comes,” said Hakan Tongul, deputy country director in Yangon of the World Food Program, a UN agency delivering supplies to the victims of the storm. “There will be logistical problems for sure.”

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