Asean tackling aid for Myanmar people



KAVI CHONGKITTAVORN

Despite setbacks due to the unsettled domestic conditions inside Myanmar since the coup in February 2021, Asean is moving ahead to explore practical ways to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the affected peoples of Myanmar, the number of which will soon reach one million. On May 6, the Asean special envoy to Myanmar, the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign inister, Prak Sokhonn, is holding a high-level platform for Asean to kick off a multi-stakeholder dialogue and to find the best practical ways to provide the grouping's humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. The meeting is part of the implementation of the five-point consensus agreed last April by Asean. One of the five urgent tasks to do is to provide humanitarian assistance. In the current dry season, the fighting between the military junta and resistance forces including the ethnic armed organisations has intensified, causing increased human suffering. The number of affected people who have been displaced throughout the country at this juncture is around 700,000 as all conflicting parties continue to take advantage of the soon-to-end dry season. For the time being, as part of the phase one approach focusing on saving lives, Asean has given US$700,000 (24 million baht) worth of medical supplies and equipment towards the Covid-19 response. In addition, Asean is expected to deliver another US$7 million of additional supplies to Myanmar during the first half of this year. At the moment, the Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Center) is working on the phase two approach to sustaining life, which will zero in on broader humanitarian needs inside Myanmar. Since this pivotal step is dealing with people in need, all activities and programmes must be non-discriminatory and independent. When the Asean special envoy visited Myanmar in March, the military junta in Nay Pyi Taw agreed with his proposal to hold a consultative meeting on humanitarian assistance in Phnom Penh in the coming week. The one-day meeting will be attended by senior officials from all Asean members as well as other specialised UN agencies and civil society organisations. The purpose is to jump-start a multi-stakeholder dialogue to come up with recommendations to guide Asean's humanitarian assistance to Myanmar in the weeks and months to come. The consultation will be divided into two sessions -- closed and open. The morning session is a closed one between the Asean members and Myanmar's Task Force on humanitarian assistance. The objective is to reach a common understanding and explore the possibility of improving the Asean framework such as the humanitarian corridor arrangement in Myanmar. This is a sensitive subject as all concerned parties lack mutual trust. Furthermore, the meeting will also discuss various challenges on the ground that the Jakarta-based AHA Center will encounter during the efforts to provide the much-needed aid. One of the pressing issues that Asean must address is how to facilitate the administration of Covid-19 vaccines in Myanmar. The State Administration Council has already inoculated 42% of the population. The number could speedily increase if the situation is calmer with more cooperation from public health officials. The second session is an open one. Both Asean and representatives from specialised UN agencies will exchange views and find practical ways to jointly collaborate with one another. The final session will be reserved for the dialogue partners. They will be updated with the latest progress and future plans to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. Essentially, Asean is soliciting assistance from foreign partners. Indeed, to speed up jabs for all communities in Myanmar, assistance from local and foreign partners is needed. Specialised UN agencies and international non-government organisations could work together with local authorities. Further negotiations are needed. Lest we forgot, last October these issues were discussed at the multi-stakeholder meeting in Bangkok on the provision of humanitarian assistance for the people of Myanmar. It was the first attempt to garner support from the international community. Dozens of representatives from specialised UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Thai Red Cross, non-governmental organisations and civil society groups attended. At the Phnom Penh meeting, Thailand, as Myanmar's eastern neighbour with a 2,401-kilometre common border, will have an important role to play as, because of its location, it will be serving as a hub for humanitarian assistance. Since the coup, the Thai authorities have been exploring possible cooperation with various partners and stakeholders to address the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar in a comprehensive manner. So far, the assistance has been confined to the border areas and to those who fled across to Thailand. The Thai Red Cross Society remains the key local organisation, in cooperation with provincial public units, in providing humanitarian and medical aid to Myanmar's people. Currently, there are numerous challenges that all stakeholders have to address. At the meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on March 23, Ko Ko Hlaing, Chief of the Task Force for Humanitarian Aid, told the Asean envoy and his team that all the assistance can only come through two routes -- Yangon's International Airport and the seaport. Other routes would not be allowed, especially along border areas with neighbouring countries. The SAC alleged that the land border has been used to smuggle arms. The Asean chair hopes that the upcoming consultative meeting will come up with a comprehensive plan to provide humanitarian aid safely to all communities without any fear or favour. The hope is that with aid flowing, it will encourage all conflicting parties to enter political dialogue for fear of losing support if fighting were to cause more civilian casualties. Obviously, such dialogue is possible only if all sides agree, and could be held in Bangkok, the most convenient place for all parties.

(Courtesy Bangkok Post)