Tuesday, March 20, 2012

US Aid to Bring Little Relief to Kachin Refugees

Source: irrawaddy
March 19, 2012: Humanitarian relief agencies working with Kachin refugees in northern Burma have welcomed a US pledge for financial aid, but say it will do little to alleviate the suffering of more than 60,000 people displaced by a conflict that shows no signs of ending.
“We thank them for their support, but it won't go very far, considering how many people are affected,” said Mai Li Awng, a spokesperson for a local Kachin relief group known as Wun Tawng Ningtwey (“Light for Kachin People”).
On Wednesday, visiting US special envoy for Burma Derek Mitchell said during a pres conference with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that the US government would provide US $1.5 million to assist those forced to flee fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
According to Mitchell, the money will be distributed through the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. By Mai Li Awng's estimate, however, the US contribution will last barely a month.
“Right now, we're spending about 700 kyat [$0.90] to feed each person per day,” she said. At that rate, the money will run out in less that 28 days—and that's without taking into consideration other needs.
One of the most pressing concerns right now is an outbreak of measles in four of the 10 camps set up along the Sino-Burmese border, where at least two-thirds of the displaced villagers are sheltering. According to Mai Li Awng, there are as many as 30 cases of measles in one camp alone.
“We don't have any vaccine, so we're worried that the virus will spread to the other six camps,” she said.
Another problem is a lack of clean water. With summer approaching and temperatures rising steadily, this shortage is expected to become acute in the coming months, contributing even further to concerns about poor sanitary conditions and the spread of infectious diseases.
Making matters worse, very little of the aid is reaching those who need it most—the 40,000 who are in camps in KIA-controlled territory along the border.
So far, most aid has gone to the 20,000 or so internally displaced persons who have fled to urban areas such as Myitkyina or Bhamo, which are under government control. Local aid workers say the government has denied outside relief agencies access to border-based camps.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mitchell said that national reconciliation would be a key issue when deciding how soon the US will lift sanctions on Burma.
Talks held in the Chinese border town of Ruili last weekend aimed at ending fighting between the KIA and the government army failed to produce a ceasefire agreement.


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