Myanmar’s promises fall short for aid agencies

By June 3, 2008

Myanmar (MNN) — Despite the government's promises, aid workers and teams are still struggling to cross Myanmar's borders with supplies. 

"The latest news that we've all seen in the media is that the country has opened up a bit more in the past week. I have not had any word that we have been able to get people in yet, but prior to that, assuming no one has gotten in, the situation up to that point was that we had people ready to go who were waiting in Thailand. But they could not get visas–the same thing
that was holding back relief workers from many other places, many other agencies," said Lane Powell of Operation Mobilization

News sources and experts suggest that the government used a long-time tactic to avoid conflict and attention from other governments. It's a game of teasing with promises that
they have no intention of keeping. According to Josef Silverstein, an expert at Rutgers University who spoke with another news agency, this tactic allows the global commentary to die
down and attention to shift until the pressure is taken off the government.

There is talk that the only way to get aid in will be to use force, which many outside government leaders are opposed to. 

OM had a medical team that was ready to go in that, as of yet, has not been allowed in. The
Burmese staff has seen the need for this team. "They've already seen that cholera is spreading, dysentery, and of course they're seeing cases of malaria, too. So all of the disease we would expect in that situation are well under way," Powell said.

The team was "just amazed. People were so grateful. They were not panicked. The people did not mob the group. They simply lined up down the road and were just expressing their gratitude for whatever little amount of help they were given."

With little outside help and with such a great need surrounding them, the team has been working non-stop for the past month. This puts a strain on them physically and emotionally, and it also constricts the flow of information out of the country.  "Our team there is just working so hard trying to connect with people, be out among the people doing what they can, that they're not sitting in offices trying to make contact with us. I think it's a combination of infrastructure and just the stress on the team right now," Powell explained.

So far, the only help OM has been able to provide the team is through funding. Once they can get teams in, OM prefers to buy aid supplies locally as the Burmese team has already been doing. "They were able to give out blankets, water purification tablets, and a little bit of medicine they've been able to get. They took empty plastic drums so that people could catch rain water so that they could have some water because they found that that was the biggest need there."

The team plans to go back with volunteer doctors to the area near the coast that they visited
with aid.

Myanmar is not entirely welcoming to the Gospel, but Powell said, knowing how the rest of
their OM teams operate around the world, the Burmese team must be having an eternal impact as well. "In many cases, they're helping many people they've already been working with who would know about the Omer's faith and understand what is behind this. So we think there is certainly value in giving people the practical help they need,
but we also hope that it would open some hearts."

Prayers and funding are still needed.

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