Junta Agrees to Let All Aid Workers into Myanmar
NOAH ADAMS, host:
From NPR news, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm Michele Norris
Today in Myanmar, the ruling military generals finally agreed to allow foreign relief workers into the country. This news comes nearly three weeks after Cyclone Nargis left more than 130,000 people dead or missing. In the worst hit areas, over two million people are still struggling to survive, to find food, clean water and shelter.
Chris Webster is part of the emergency response team for the aid organization World Vision, and we reached him in Bangkok. Thanks for being on the program, sir.
Mr. CHRIS WEBSTER (Member, Emergency Response Team, World Vision): No problem.
NORRIS: How are you responding to this news?
Mr. WEBSTER: Well, we welcome what appears to be an opening up in terms of the government's policy to allow foreign aid workers in. And you know, for us, we need to see the details. We understand that foreign aid workers are going to be in but we want to see that translated into both - more access of staff into the country but more access of supplies and technical staff to support our work.
NORRIS: Ban Ki-moon said, today, that the military rulers now will allow aid workers as well as civilian ships and small boats. How will that make a difference, particularly in the Irrawaddy Delta, the hardest hit region?
Mr. WEBSTER: Those are the kind of things that we need to see. And that's going to give us, you know, the means to reach some of these stricken communities. Just consider the weather, you know, it's been raining more or less every day since three weeks ago. There's been strong storms, threats of a second cyclone. I mean, the conditions in which aid agencies and the communities themselves are trying to work in an atrocious system. We need that sort of transportation. We have our own warehouses in Dubai and Frankfurt and other places where we have huge supplies that we would like to bring in. But so far, we haven't been able to scale up to any significant degree. And we really hoping that in the next few days, that's what World Vision and other agencies are going to be seeing.
NORRIS: Because there are so many, sort of, small tributaries all throughout the Irrawaddy Delta, what kind of boats are you talking about?
Mr. WEBSTER: Well, I mean, the small wooden boats, really, for getting from one side to other, between villages. I know there are bigger ships standing by with, you know, significant amount of aid on board, but that's still waiting for the green lights in terms of getting that in. We're still lacking clarity over the scale of this disaster, you know, the numbers of people affected -exactly what they need. And once we get additional stuff into those areas, we'll be out to very quickly assess just what kind of transport and what kind of - what needs to be put in place in order to make this happen.
NORRIS: Is it possible that with all the downed trees and the debris that you might not been able to navigate all these small tributaries by boat?
Mr. WEBSTER: Indeed, that's the reality. There's going to be debris, there's going to be trees and buildings making access a huge obstacle for us. My only hope is that, you know, some of these lines of access are opening up.
NORRIS: The more than two million that are still struggling to survive are very vulnerable to starvation, to disease. It's now monsoon season in Myanmar. What's the realistic outlook?
Mr. WEBSTER: Well, we have two significant challenges. Of course, you know, one is getting food and shelter and water and health care to help prevent what could be a potential - a massive public health crisis. Our assessment teams have been saying that many of the children they're meeting have got diarrhea and dysentery skin infections. The initial kind of symptoms, and you know, provided - they're the basically the platforms for, you know, secondary and more significant health issues like cholera and other water-borne diseases.
The other side of this is the long time impact. I mean, the delta is the rice basket for Myanmar. You know with monsoons and the planting season that's due in a couple of months time, this is going to have a significant impact on their harvest this year. And the commitment that we need is to be there for a number of years in order to see these communities rebuilt. And the detail we need from this announcements is, are we going to have this unhindered access into these communities for a significant amount of time so we can be sure that they're going to be re-built.
NORRIS: Chris Webster is an aid worker with World Vision. He's working on disaster relief from Bangkok, hoping soon to get into Myanmar. Thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. WEBSTER: Thank you.