Myanmar Negotiates Foreign Aid Package
GUY RAZ, host:
In Myanmar today, representatives from dozens of countries gather at a donor's conference with that nation's military rulers. They hope to finally clear the logjam that's kept most foreign aid and workers out of the country since a cyclone ravaged Myanmar three weeks ago.
More than 100,000 people are dead or missing, and the government said today it needs $11 billion to rebuild. NPR's Michael Sullivan spent more than a week in Myanmar after the storm. He's on the line now from Bangkok, Thailand.
Michael, have they cleared the logjam? Is the aid now going to get through?
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: I think it's way too early to tell if that's actually going to happen. The donors, the U.N., obviously wanted to use the conference to push for more access, for better access, and for more effective ways to deliver aid in general - I mean, boats and helicopters and trucks.
The government of Myanmar has a different agenda. It insists that the relief effort is pretty much over despite the fact that about half the people affected, by the U.N.'s estimate, haven't been reached yet.
RAZ: Michael, 100,000 dead or missing in Myanmar, as many as 5 million people homeless. I mean, clearly that aid is desperately needed, and the world is clamoring to help. Why the resistance from the government in Myanmar?
SULLIVAN: This is a group of generals that is just deeply, deeply suspicious of the international community in general and of the West in particular. They see a foreign presence on the ground as the thin end of the wedge that might help drive them from power in the long run.
I mean, as bizarre as this sounds, I think this is the way that they think there.
RAZ: Michael, what are you hearing from the Irrawaddy Delta from either aid workers or folks down there where the cyclone hit the hardest?
SULLIVAN: They're getting a little more aid in every day. There are more flights that are coming into Yangon every day. But the problem is access, yeah. I mean, once you get it into Yangon, that's one thing. But getting it from Yangon down to the delta is difficult. You have a lot of people in these affected areas that either haven't been reached yet or have been reached with, you know, just the very basic level of care.
RAZ: Now, Michael, as we mentioned earlier, the government is asking for $11 billion in aid from the international community to rebuild, but they want to control access into Myanmar. With those kinds of demands, will they get that kind of money?
SULLIVAN: I think it's very difficult to see how the international community would just dump a lot of money into the country not knowing where that money is going, not knowing how that money is going to be spent, not knowing how the aid is going to be distributed.
RAZ: Michael, you've covered disasters around the world for more than a decade. Have you ever seen a situation like this?
SULLIVAN: I have seen situations that have been far worse just in terms of the damage and the loss of life. But I haven't seen a response that even compares with this one in terms of how inadequate the government response has been. Here we are three weeks into this thing now, three full weeks, and there are still major disagreements about allowing foreign workers in. The idea that that can happen, you know, in this day and age just points to the idea of the isolation and the suspicion that these Burmese generals view the rest of the world with.
RAZ: NPR's Michael Sullivan in Bangkok, Thailand. Thanks so much for being with us.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome.
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