ASEAN to hand cyclone relief to junta

Ongoing cyclone relief work in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy delta will be handed to the Burmese junta after the Southeast Asia regional bloc last week decided to wrap up operations there.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said that it would “accelerate aid delivery” to the cyclone-affected population before pulling out in July, more than 18 months after 140,000 people lost their lives in one of Southeast Asia’s most devastating natural disasters.

“While the [ASEAN Humanitarian Taskforce] will end its operations in Myanmar [Burma] in July 2010, the recovery process for many survivors of Cyclone Nargis will take many years,” ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said.

He acknowledged that “many gaps are still not met, in sectors such as shelter, livelihoods, and water and sanitation”, hence the need for faster aid delivery.

A report released by ASEAN in November last year found that nearly 180,000 cyclone victims still lacked decent shelter. Many were living under tarpaulin roofs distributed shortly after it struck.

The decision to hand control of operations to the Burmese government was a matter of “ensuring sustainability of recovery”, he added.

The government was roundly condemned for its slow reaction to the cyclone, which struck Burma’s southern coast on the night of 2 May and left an estimated 2.4 million people destitute.

Fearing outside interference in the country, the ruling generals then barred foreign aid workers and journalists from accessing the delta region, while it took days before aid supplies were allowed in.

But the subsequent formation of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), comprising the government, ASEAN and the UN, appeared to have formed a bridge between Burma and the outside world. It is the termination of this that has caused some concern among international observers.

“I think if you were to go back and ask a number of NGOs they would probably say that the mechanism that was in place was a good mechanism because it brought together the government, the UN and ASEAN,” said James East, communications director at World Vision, which continues to carry out relief work in the delta.

He said however that the handing back of control or “ownership” of operations to the country was important.

“What it should be about is building the capacity of people in country, and the danger when it’s managed by outside experts is that the knowledge doesn’t get passed on,” he said, adding that “the principle [of return control] is a good one” and that World Vision is “fairly satisfied with the progress its been able to make in the delta”.