Increased Aid Would Help Bring Reform to Myanmar: Think-Tank

BANGKOK ~ An increased flow of foreign aid into Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis would help improve people’s lives and foster democratic reform in the military-run nation, a think-tank said this week.
Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said aid agencies should build on relations forged with the junta during the cyclone response, rather than return to the status quo in Myanmar, which is under European and US sanctions.
“Political reform remains vital, but withholding aid has done nothing to promote this,” said John Virgoe, ICG’s Southeast 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.”
Myanmar only received US$2.9 of foreign aid per person in 2005, United Nations figures show, compared to more than $38 per person in nearby Cambodia and nearly $50 in Laos.
This is despite Myanmar having a significantly lower per capita GDP than both those nations.
Many aid agencies have also in the past pulled out of Myanmar, saying the restrictions from the junta made their work impossible.
But since Cyclone Nargis pummeled the southwest delta in early May leaving at least 138,000 people dead or missing and up to one million in need of assistance, relations between aid agencies and the junta have improved, the ICG said in its statement.
Myanmar’s military junta initially came under fire from the United Nations for its slow response to the tragedy, although it relented after a personal visit by the UN head, and aid has since been trickling through to survivors.
ICG said that visas to Myanmar and permits for aid workers for travel within the country were being granted with greater ease, while requirements for the launch of new development projects had been eased.
“But Myanmar faces a much deeper developmental crisis, with millions of households living on the edge of survival,” the statement said.
“Donors should end aid restrictions, which have seen Myanmar receiving 20 times less assistance than similar countries – and which have weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change.”
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.

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