Skip to content
Nation & World
Link copied to clipboard

Myanmar: Aid is a pittance

The junta said the $150 million that nations have pledged is a fraction of the billions needed.

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's ruling junta lashed out yesterday at aid donors who promised millions of dollars for cyclone relief, saying survivors did not need "bars of chocolate."

State-run media criticized donors for pledging up to $150 million - a far cry from the $11 billion the junta said it needed to rebuild.

The Myanma Ahlin newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said cyclone victims from the hardest-hit areas could get by without foreign handouts.

"People from the Irrawaddy delta can survive on their own, even without bars of chocolate donated by the international community," it said, adding that they could live on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers."

The reference to chocolate bars appeared to be metaphorical. No aid agency is known to be distributing them, and they would not be practical in Myanmar's tropical heat. Paul Risley of the United Nations' World Food Program, which is directing the effort for emergency food supplies, said his agency provides rice, ready-to-eat meals of rice and beans, and high-energy biscuits.

The newspaper commentary also slammed an unnamed monetary institution, saying its refusal to help cyclone survivors was "an act of inhumanity."

World Bank managing director Juan Jose Daboub said last week that the bank would not extend financial aid or loans to Myanmar because it has not paid its debts for a decade.

The article said the same countries that criticized Myanmar for not opening its door to aid workers were being stingy with relief aid. It appeared to single out the United States without naming it.

"There is one big nation that extended economic sanctions on Myanmar even before it was known that a powerful cyclone was going to strike Myanmar," it said.

Despite the blistering rhetoric, the United Nations reported that dozens of visas had been approved for international relief workers to enter the country. It said more foreigners were also being allowed into the delta, which had been off-limits to Westerners since the storm left 1.5 million homeless.

It was an apparent sign that the isolationist government planned to keep its promise to let in humanitarian workers from all countries. The last 45 pending visas were granted to U.N. staffers, while Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) have sent more than 14 workers in recent days into the delta region, a U.N. statement said.

Japan, which has so far donated $13 million in aid, sent a 23-member medical team to Myanmar yesterday, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.

The junta agreed to allow in foreign aid workers only after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met last weekend with its leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

While issuing some praise for the opening to the international aid community, global powers have voiced disappointment at the government's decision, announced Wednesday, to extend Nobel-winning pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for a sixth year.

Several countries, including the United States, Britain and France, issued biting statements about the regime's order.

Under Myanmar law, people deemed security threats can be detained for a maximum of five years without trial, which Suu Kyi has just completed. The regime has not explained why it is violating its own law.

In Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization said that it and other agencies were launching a $28 million plan to replace destroyed medical facilities and equipment and fight the outbreak of cholera, malaria, dengue fever and other diseases.

The storm left an estimated 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care. Myanmar's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing.