When Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on May 3, many in the local aid community hoped they could immediately get shipments of food, medicine and other supplies into the Irrawaddy Delta region that was hardest hit.
Myanmar's military government has been blocking outside aid even though its own conservative count estimates 134,000 people (close to the entire population of Eugene) are now dead or missing. The United Nations estimates 2.4 million survivors—or about 1 of every 20 residents of the tiny Asian nation once known as Burma—were left destitute. And only 500,000 of those people have received any aid, according to the U.N.
Portlander Edith Mirante, local activist and author of the 2005 book Down the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers, agrees something must be done, even if it requires an incursion by the 1,000 U.S. Navy troops waiting off the Myanmar coast.
Mirante thinks there has been much hand-wringing both in the Bush administration and at the U.N. over the disaster.
"It's sad that our capacity to deliver humanitarian intervention has been so compromised during the Bush administration," says Mirante, who's been active in Burmese human rights causes since the late '80s. "In the old days we would have just gone and done it. Now the US is too bogged down in Iraq to commit militarily somewhere else."
This week, Portlanders can help.
On Saturday, May 31, the Burma Action Committee and Green Empowerment are sponsoring a benefit from 5 to 7 pm at the Monkey and the Rat (131 NW 2nd Ave.), with a suggested donation of $5. Good news, but if the junta isn't allowing foreign aid to come in easily, can a fundraiser in faraway Portland help?
The two Portland-based activist groups say they're working from countries bordering Myanmar and connecting with indigenous nonprofits that will provide direct and on-the-ground aid not sanctioned by the junta.
Beneficiaries will include Eugene-based Thirst-Aid, which has been working on safe-water projects in Myanmar, and an unidentified NGO that has been working since the 2004 tsunami to reconstruct communities in the Irrawaddy Delta region.
Mirante, who will speak at the fundraiser, is optimistic supplies will get to those who need them.
"There are money networks throughout Southeast Asia," Mirante says, "and they literally courier $100 bills with them, among other things like water purification tablets and medical supplies."