Myanmar Considers Aid from Asian Neighbors

Thousands remain missing in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis, but the country has allowed only limited assistance from the outside world. Myanmar may now accept help from its immediate neighbors after a recent emergency meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to BBC reporter Andrew Harding.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Myanmar has allowed only limited assistance from the outside world, but after this month's cyclone, some of Myanmar's neighbors are trying. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which includes Myanmar, is making plans to coordinate a relief effort.

We're joined now by the BBC's Andrew Harding, who's following this story.

And I'd like to know if Myanmar's any more open to its immediate neighbors than it is to the West.

Mr. ANDREW HARDING (British Broadcasting Corporation): I think it is, and to be honest, this is the only game in town right now. Everything else has failed. The generals in Burma are unmoved by the threats and the shame which the outside world's tried to pour on them these last couple of weeks.

So ASEAN, this regional body, does seem to be the way ahead. And I think the international community is putting all its weight behind this and hoping that it can prove to be perhaps the facility, the funnel, through which more aid can slowly be pushed into Burma.

INSKEEP: When you say the funnel, does that mean that, say, the United States might have equipment or rescuers and they'd hand them off to ASEAN, which would in turn hand them to Myanmar and that would be considered OK?

Mr. HARDING: Exactly. It's a face-saving device for the generals in Myanmar, and that's very important to them. It may not be as fast as is necessary to save lives, but it does seem to be the only way that this can be handled. And there is a conference that's going to go ahead in Yangon - Rangoon - this weekend, where it's hoped that ASEAN can sit down with the U.N. and with the Burmese government and try to hammer out a deal which will increase the flow through this pipeline.

Which to be fair - it needs pointing out - every day more aid is already getting through to Burma. Not just from abroad, but also from other parts of the country. A lot of supplies are being sourced in-country. And every day more people are receiving aid, even though it's still way too little.

INSKEEP: And of course at the same time every day more rain seems to be falling there as well.

Mr. HARDING: Yes. That's a mixed blessing. On the one hand it makes the roads more impossible. It makes life for people out in the open with wounds, with - weakened with hunger and so on, much grimmer. But it also does provide some free, easy, readily available clean drinking water.

INSKEEP: Well, how serious is the situation at this point then for two, two and a half million people?

Mr. HARDING: It's bad, but it's also slightly a mystery. And I think that's one important factor here. People simply don't know yet how many people have died, how many people are suffering, and exactly how many people are still being reached. The World Food Program, for instance, is still coming across villages that have received if not nothing, then very little. So the problem has been for all the organizations outside, all the countries outside trying to help Burma, no one really knows exactly what's needed where. So it's been a very chaotic seat of your pants kind of operation.

INSKEEP: Mr. Harding, thanks very much.

Mr. HARDING: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's the BBC's Andrew Harding. He joined us this morning from Bangkok, Thailand, where he is following the effort to bring aid to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

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