I'm not sure what's more heartbreaking about Cyclone Nargis, the military's junta's failure to forewarn residents of Myanmar about the deadly storm or the regime's reluctance to allow western governments and relief groups into the country to provide assistance during the crucial early days when victims need food, water and medicine. I suspect that this gives many would-be donors pause -- people don't want to give if they're not sure the food and supplies purchased with their donation will get to those in need.
I contacted Michael Forhan, a friend's father, who has lived in Myanmar and runs Burma Border Projects, a non-profit group founded to aid refugees along the Thai-Burmese border. "Some aid may be allowed in, but the bulk of the aid that's waiting to go still hasn't and may not ever make it in time," he said in an email. "My fear is that giving to larger international organizations may not be as efficient or timely as so many of them are having difficulty getting their aid into the country."
I am hopeful that pressure from the United Nations will persuade the junta that the crisis requires urgent international assistance or else famine and disease could increase the death toll, which is already in the tens of thousands. Meanwhile, Michael suggested donating to two grassroots organizations already on the ground and helping:
The Mae Tao Clinic (MTC), provides free health care to refugees and migrant workers who cross the border from Burma to Thailand. The clinic has an emergency assistance team working to get food, water, cooking equipment, clothing, shelter and medical services to cyclone victims.
Avaaz, a global organization co-founded by moveon.org, is sending money to the International Burmese Monks Organization, which has launched a relief effort through the grassroots monasteries in Mynamar. According to Avaaz's web site, the monks (referred to as "the most trusted and reliable institution in the country") are the only source of shelter and food in some remote areas affected by the cyclone.Michele Turk is a journalist and author whose book, Blood, Sweat and Tears: An oral History of the American Red Cross, was published in 2006. She recently founded e street press, a self-publishing company.