Burma: A question of aid

Today its impossible to ignore Burma. Hit by Cyclone Nargis and a subsequent devastating tidal surge which left tens of thousands dead and over a million displaced, the country is in the grips of a full-blown humanitarian crisis.The Times, The Mail, The Independent and The Guardian were among the many news outlets who covered the story indepth this morning.Tomorrow is supposed to see a referendum on a new constitution take place in Burma and the fact that at the time of writing it is still due to go ahead in a vast majority of the country is beyond belief when there are more immediate concerns.What is even more astonishing is that the Burmese military junta are refusing to allow foreign workers in to help especially when the next few hours are vital. Aid is already being stockpiled on the borders, but instead of the few passable routes being filled with aid envoys heading to the badly-hit Irrawaddy Delta, the roads remain eerily quiet. And this afternoon the BBC reported that a UN aid plane had been impounded by authorities which has led to a total suspension of the World Food Programmes aid effort.The best explanation for the behaviour of the Burmese authorities is that they want to be seen to be distributing the aid themselves. The worst reasons are not worth thinking about.Either way, Amnesty firmly believes that as thousands struggle for basic shelter, food and health care, politics should be put to one side and all efforts should go into helping the people of Burma before its too late, irrespective of who carries out the work. Its a point made excellently in an opinion piece from Amnestys Scotland Programme Director, John Watson, in todays Herald newspaper.As for the referendum itself, Amnesty has a whole series of issues with that, including obviously the fact that it is taken place at all when the country has more immediate concerns. The main points are raised in a media briefing sent out this morning. To summarise: the process has been unfair, opponents have been harassed and issues of impunity are not being addressed. Usual Burma then.Expect to see more in tomorrows papers.Try and have a good weekend.

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