Burma aid is reaching needy, aid agencies insist

|PIC1|Christian aid agencies and organisations are urging members of the public not to let negative headlines in the media put them off giving to Burma appeals, insisting that aid is in fact reaching the needy.

Media headlines have been dominated by the Burmese Government's reluctance to let in foreign aid and aid workers despite the huge humanitarian needs in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which hit nearly three weeks ago.

Director of Operations at World Emergency Relief, Alex Haxton, said that the vast majority of charity appeals for Burma, including the major Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, were attracting donations well below what they were expecting.

"For a tragedy like this we would have expected at least double what we are getting in at the moment," he said.

Mr Haxton said that many people he had spoken to were wary of giving money because they feared that aid would be confiscated by the Burmese Government and that their donations would end up being put to other uses by recipient charities.

The credit crunch, he added, had led to a "noticeable squeeze" in average donations over the last few months.

"It's not so much a disaster fatigue," he said. "Worldwide and especially in this country, we are certainly noticing that people have got an income fatigue in the sense that they are finding it harder and harder to live for themselves, and so they've got less disposable income that they feel able to release," he said.

Mr Haxton assured, however, that WER and a number of other charities like World Vision and Tearfund were successfully bringing emergency aid to cyclone survivors through established partners, made up largely of Burmese nationals, working on the ground.

WER had, he continued, also found ways of circumventing the restrictions on foreign aid.

"In the shipment of pharmaceuticals, we're using scheduled airlines as normal freight cargo so that it is in a sense coming below the barrier, and we are not sending big quantities," he explained.

"So we can guarantee that aid is getting through but you have to be much more sophisticated as to how you do it."

Mr Haxton admitted that he viewed with some scepticism the news that the Burmese Government had agreed to allow in all foreign aid workers.

"The Burmese Government have said they would allow aid workers in. That has happened in the past with the tsunami but once the major officials went away back to their different countries the Burmese Government still didn't let people or supplies in. So I think with these headlines we have to be a little bit sceptical."

Mr Haxton encouraged Christians to still give and pray, however.

"The need is real, the need is great. So do give and pray that righteousness will prevail. Don't be negative, don't be sceptical, but give and give generously because there is real need," he said, adding that Christians should contact aid agencies to check how their donations might be used before giving.

Rev Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, issued a similar appeal to evangelical Christians to give to appeals for Burma and China, which is still reeling from a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province.

"We need to pray and give, give, give to organisations that can help the afflicted," he said, pointing to World Vision and Tearfund, as well as other organisations successfully bringing aid to cyclone survivors in Burma, including Samaritan's Purse and Mission Aviation Fellowship.

"Prayer for China is critical at this time," he continued. "The country's recent three days of national mourning for the dead of the Sichuan earthquake gave the world the opportunity to stand together with them in their pain and we pray there will be continued openness to relief agencies."

Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, International Director of World Evangelical Alliance, has been in contact with leaders of the Evangelical Christian Fellowship in Burma. He said, "I have assured our Christian brothers and sisters, who have been directly impacted by the May 3 cyclone that we will stand with them."

Tearfund and World Vision are members of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a body of 13 member agencies that provide humanitarian aid in times of disaster.

Most of the DEC members have only a modest presence in China and are encouraging donors to give to the British Red Cross directly. The DEC's Burma appeal, however, has raised more than £8 million.

Tearfund estimates that more than 55,000 cyclone survivors are receiving aid from the charity's Christian partners on the ground in Burma and could reach more if donations continue to flow in.

Another Evangelical Alliance member organisation, Samaritan's Purse has recently received permission to fly in supplies to Burma, and Mission Aviation Fellowship's Asia Regional Director has also just received a visa to enter the country.

HCJB Global Voice has been reaching Christians in China and Burma via short-wave radio, and Trans World Radio is broadcasting special radio programmes with vital health and social care information for those affected by the cyclone in Burma.

Mr Edwards concludes: "At times like this it is so encouraging to see two member organisations of the Evangelical Alliance on the DEC and to hear stories about so many more who are doing such great work."