Myanmar Sends Mixed Signals on Foreign Aid

A young girl at a temporary shelter in Myanmar

A young girl prepares food at a temporary shelter in Twantay, 30 miles southwest of Yangon on May 29. Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty

Four weeks after a massive cyclone hit Myanmar, relief efforts are still lagging. Even though the country's ruling junta has just said that it would approve dozens of visas for international relief workers, Chris Webster of the international Christian aid organization World Vision says that efforts are "still in early-days response mode."

Webster recently received his own visa after waiting three weeks in Bangkok. He says he sees some progress. "We're in a phase where we're talking about practical issues, rather than the issues about access of staff and supplies," he says.

But he says that the needs today "are really the same as they were after the first three days." He reports that there are thousands of people who have not received substantial assistance and between hundreds and thousands of lost children. Meanwhile, he says, the risks of new waves of public health crises — among them cholera, dysentery, malaria and dengue fever — are growing each day.

Even as Myanmar's government has granted more visas, its state-run newspaper has criticized the international community for not doing enough. Webster, however, says aid workers are moving forward and now have agreements in place to keep working for at least six months.

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