Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar): How You Can Help

As many of you know, I'm Co-chair of the board of directors of the U.S. Campaign for Burma:

Several of my friends have asked how they can best help the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their home, their family, and their livelihood in Burma (Myanmar).

Since the cyclone struck Burma, I've been working almost full-time on helping to provide access to aid for those affected. It's been a crash course for me in humanitarian relief in Burma. Here's what I've learned.

1. It is best to donate to small charities. The big charities (Red Cross, World Vision, etc.) have big publicity machines and are likely not hurting for donations. We should give our "smart money" to the most effective small charities who devote their money solely for relief and spend little to no money on fund-raising or overhead.

2. It is best to give to charities who were on the ground prior to the cyclone. They are experienced with Burma, already have a network of Burmese partners, and know how to best bypass the regime's rampant mismanagement, diversion, and blatant stealing of aid.

3. Please donate to political action as well as relief. The problem is not that there is insufficient aid. Aid is already piling up on the borders. The real problems is that the Burmese military regime is taking control of aid deliveries and diverting it to feed the army. (The regime is scared that their own troops are hungry and have weapons. The generals fear mutinies and even a large-scale insurrection by junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers.) The regime is also refusing access to the affected regions by aid workers and journalists. It will take political pressure on the regime to force them to let in the aid. That requires funding the organizations that are organizing the most effective political pressure.

Regarding aid, I do recommend Thirst Aid, which was inside Burma before the cyclone and has already been delivering water purification tablets. (Thirst Aid is a small charity run by a couple of experienced Burma aid activists in Oregon and has very little overhead.)

Foundation for the People of Burma was established by Hal Nathan, a San Francisco money manager and, I believe, Buddhist. This group has worked through monasteries inside Burma for several years.

Burma Lifeline is run by Tad and Inge Sargent, long-time Free Burma activists based in Boulder, Colorado.

Burma Border Projects is run by Michael Forhan, a long-time friend and comrade-in-arms. Based out of Worcester, MA, he has been bringing over medical supplies and medical professionals to the famous Dr. Cynthia's clinic Thai-Burma border. The doctors, dentists, nurses, and psychologists not only provide treatment but also provide training for "backpack doctors," who risk their lives to cross the border on foot into war zones in Burma and provide medical treatment.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma is raising money that people can earmark for relief. These funds are being passed though 100%. I cannot go into detail about the groups inside Burma to which we are directly sending the money. If the regime learned that we were giving money to those organizations, they would very likely steal the money and put the people in prison.

I would also recommend donations for the political work of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, Burma Campaign UK, and Canadian Friends of Burma. These do the most effective work in lobbying the United Nations, U.S. government and Congress as well as the European Union and its member governments to put pressure on the Burmese military regime to open up its borders for aid and for experienced aid workers.

Thank you for your consideration. Namaste.




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