Aid drops to pre-Nargis levels

Overseas development assistance for Burma has fallen by some 30 percent since 2008, despite an overall increase in global aid distribution.

The quantity of ODA going into Burma is now lower than Cambodia, despite having a population three times the size, the UN’s IRIN news agency said.

Aid surged by 170 percent in the aftermath of May 2008’s cyclone Nargis, Burma’s worst-recorded natural disaster which claimed 140,000 lives and left 2.4 million homeless. Now however the ODA may only be as much as $US5 per capita.

The figures will do little to alleviate the concerns of observers who say that Burma’s position as Southeast Asia’s lowest recipient of overseas aid, despite being the region’s least-developed country, is closely tied to political, rather than humanitarian, considerations.

Burma ranked 132 out of 169 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index for 2010, eight places below Cambodia, the second-lowest ranking Southeast Asian nation.

The majority of Western countries hold sanctions on the Burmese regime, but critics say that the poor targeting of the embargo effectively amounts to a humanitarian boycott.

“There is [definitely] an ODA boycott going on, though not on paper,” Frank Smithuis, founder of Medical Aid Myanmar, a local NGO specialising in HIV care, told IRIN. “It’s no coincidence that the countries that have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar [Burma] are also the countries that give the least development assistance.”

A recent report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that there are around 500,000 internally displaced people in eastern Burma alone who struggle to access the already scant aid that reaches their areas of refuge.

Calls for a review of sanctions on Burma are gaining in volume, although the US, its strongest proponent, has said there will be no policy change until the junta shows signs of progress.

But any tangible results from nearly 15 years of blockades are hard to come by, and the ruling regime has close allies in the neighbourhood that continue to provide an economic crutch through soaring trade and investment.

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