MYANMAR: ODA shrinks post-Nargis
Cyclone Nargis, as photographed by NASA here, boosted the country's ODA, but only momentarily
YANGON, 24 January 2011 (IRIN) - Overseas development assistance (ODA) to Myanmar has dropped to pre-Cyclone Nargis levels, leaving millions needing food, shelter, health and education, warn aid agencies.
More than 138,000 people lost their lives and 2.4 million people were affected by the category 4 storm in May 2008.
According to the latest data available from the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD), ODA to Myanmar has fallen since 2008, despite a worldwide ODA increase.
Myanmar received US$357 million of ODA in 2009, a 30 percent cut from the previous year.
Now that the humanitarian component of the ODA has decreased to pre-Nargis levels, the estimated ODA in 2010 is as low as $5 per capita, said Andrew Kirkwood, head of Save the Children Myanmar.
"Nargis was just a blip," he said. In 2008, the humanitarian response to Nargis marked a 170 percent increase in ODA from the year before when Myanmar's ODA
was $198 million, according to the OECD.
However, while the humanitarian aid component of the ODA increased in 2008, core non-emergency funding remained low in 2009 at $127 million or $2.50 per capita, according to the OECD.
In the same period Cambodia received $208 million in non-humanitarian funds, despite having a population approximately three times smaller.
"There is [definitely] an ODA boycott going on, though not on paper," said Frank Smithuis, founder of Medical Aid Myanmar, a local NGO specializing in HIV care, and former director of Médecins Sans Frontières Holland in Myanmar.
"It's no coincidence that the countries that have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar are also the countries that give the least development assistance," he said.
For the past two decades, donor governments mostly from the west have levied various trade, travel, investment, arms, development and data embargos against the military regime in protest at its human rights and anti-democracy record.
From visa restrictions against its leaders to precious stone import bans, sanctions have been tightened following massive anti-democracy government crackdowns and various extensions of house arrest for the now-released opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Speaking after the September 2007 crackdown by the military regime on Buddhist monks, former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Berniere said Canada had the "toughest sanctions in the world" on Myanmar.
In 2009, Canada gave Myanmar $2.7 million but it gave Laos 10 times more ODA per capita, despite the country's higher gross national income per capita.
"Whenever I approach a donor for funding they're always keen, right up to the point when I say 'Myanmar'," said Smithuis.
|When I approach a donor for funding they're always keen, right up to the point when I say 'Myanmar'
But the US government - which has budgeted $36.9 million for ODA to Myanmar in 2011 - defends its commitment to the Burmese people even in the face of rules against assisting their government, except with humanitarian aid.
"Considering the lack of a USAID [US Agency for International Development] mission presence [in Myanmar], Burma's budget is actually quite robust, at approximately six times the level of the Laos budget [$6 million in 2011]. Burma assistance levels have risen beyond those of Laos since the international community, including the [US government], responded to the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, with humanitarian assistance to the people, not the government, of Burma," said a USAID spokesperson.
Teachers and midwives
But not all the people can benefit from this largesse, said Kirkwood.
The US administration considers teachers and midwives government workers, so organizations accepting government funding cannot help them, Kirkwood added.
"It's absurd that developed countries have money earmarked for development, but don't allow organizations to work with the government... That is the function of politics. The international community [is] penalizing the children of a country for a government that they don't have any say in. It's playing politics with children's lives," he said.
The USAID spokesperson told IRIN that due to counter-narcotics and anti-trafficking agreements, which the US government deems Myanmar to violate, the US cannot fund any government entity except for labs or offices fighting communicable diseases.
Meanwhile, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), explained why sidestepping the government by giving money directly to NGOs was necessary.
"As a donor distributing public funds, we have to be accountable to the European taxpayers and ensure that every euro is being spent effectively," said ECHO's regional information officer covering Myanmar, Mathias Eick.
Meanwhile, aid agencies say it is the Burmese people who must bear the impact of donor manoeuvring to avoid dealing with the government.
"Of course, sanctions are not why children die or don't go to school, that's down to the government, but they certainly don't help," Kirkwood added.
Outside sub-Saharan Africa, Myanmar is second to Afghanistan for child mortality rates, according to UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). Almost 10 percent of children in Myanmar died before reaching the age of five in 2008.