The cyclone that devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta earlier this year resulted in an unexpectedly robust influx of foreign assistance and relief workers who have showered aid on a relatively small portion of the Burmese population while leaving other, equally desperate parts of the country to fend for themselves, the New York Times reports.
After initial resistance by Myanmar's junta to foreign offers of assistance in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which hit in May, as much as $240 million — or about $100 for every person who survived the cyclone — has poured into the delta from donors around the globe as well as twenty-six international aid organizations. That money has been used to help rebuild roads, schools, houses, and water storage tanks destroyed or damaged during the storm. Aid workers say they hope the intensive effort in the delta, where only a small fraction of the country's population lives, has opened up the possibility of expanded humanitarian operations elsewhere in the country, though they acknowledge that for now foreign aid has created a stark imbalance in the country.
Indeed, the list of those in need of food and medical attention outside the delta is long and growing. A recent survey conducted for the United Nations found that only 60 percent of boys and less than half of the girls in villages near the border of Bangladesh had normal body mass. Elsewhere, villagers in Chin State are suffering massive rat infestations, while only 15,000 of the estimated 80,000 HIV-infected individuals in Myanmar are receiving the retroviral drugs they need to survive.
The quandary for aid organizations working in the country is that assistance pledged for relief efforts in the delta must be spent in the delta. And while the UN World Food Program is fully financed to assist victims of the cyclone through January, it will have to cut some programs in northern areas of the country because of an immediate shortfall of $11.2 million caused in part by an increase in global food prices.
"There's a serious amount of money flowing into this country, and it's all for Nargis victims," said Frank Smithuis, country representative in Myanmar for Doctors Without Borders. "That is great, but it is strange that nobody seems interested in the needs of the rest of the country."