The humanitarian situation in Myanmar
by Humanitarian Practice Network December 2008

This edition of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on the humanitarian situation in Myanmar, with special reference to Cyclone Nargis, which struck the country on 2 and 3 May. In all, over 140,000 people were killed and 20,000 injured. The homes, communities and livelihoods of around 2.4 million people were affected, with the damage caused to infrastructure, commerce and agriculture estimated at $4 billion.

Articles in this issue explore the roles played by major international institutions in organising the response, in particular the UN and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); issues of access for expatriate aid workers and assistance; needs assessment; and the importance of prior presence in enabling an emergency response. Other articles focus on the role of national civil society in the initial response, and initiatives to support national civil society through grants, training and capacity-building support. Taken as a whole, the articles suggest that the initial restrictions on access perhaps forced international actors into a more creative and flexible response, one which valued local and regional capacities more than is often the case.

Away from the Nargis response, a set of more general articles examine conflict-related displacement in eastern Myanmar, landmines and chronic health issues – a salutary reminder that there is a wider humanitarian crisis in Myanmar that deserves greater attention.

Other articles in this edition revisit Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s approaches to accountability, the need for health agencies to take chronic diseases into account in their response and the immensely challenging security environment for humanitarian agencies in Chad. One article examines the exclusion and neglect facing Aravanis (people who may be born inter-sex or apparently males, dress in feminine clothes and generally see themselves as neither women nor men) in the response to the tsunami in Tamil Nadu, India. We also have a topical examination into how humanitarian assistance is being targeted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Finally, Maurice Herson challenges the idea of dependency in relief.