A growing number of charities have sent supplies to Southeast Asia to help victims of the recent cyclone in Myanmar, but many aid workers continued to express concern that red tape and foot-dragging on the part of government officials were delaying their ability to provide assistance.
“It’s frustrating not to be able to respond immediately and provide on-the-ground assistance,” said Rabih Torbay, vice president of international operations with the International Medical Corps.
Mr. Torbay’s charity had dispatched medical supplies, water-purification tablets, and other materials to the region and was working with local groups to help assess how to deliver that aid. But as of Thursday morning, none of the charity’s staff members had been granted a visa to enter Myanmar.
AmeriCares, Direct Relief International, and the International Rescue Committee were among other nonprofit organizations that had sent aid or were airlifting supplies that were expected to arrive later this week.
One employee with International Rescue Committee had already received a visa to enter the country, and the charity was hopeful that additional visas would soon be granted.
“The needs are immense, so it’s imperative that there has to be a large humanitarian response,” said Melissa Winkler, a spokeswoman with the New York group. “We’re just hoping that everything will move quickly.”
Save the Children, which had 500 employees working in Myanmar before the disaster struck, was waiting to receive visas for additional staff members. Mike Kiernan, a spokesman, said his group would likely hire more local employees to assist with the relief effort.
Charity leaders said the disaster was far worse than expected, as the cyclone picked up speed over land instead of slowing down. Unlike Bangladesh, which had undertaken disaster planning in advance of a cyclone that hit last fall, Myanmar was woefully ill-prepared for this catastrophe.
“Bangladesh had contingency plans,” said Mr. Torbay, of International Medical Corps. “In Myanmar, there were none. It’s a scary situation.”
As aid workers waited to get into the country on Thursday, many fund raisers said the early response from donors had been relatively encouraging:Save the Children had raised more than $1.4-million as of Thursday. The charity hopes to raise $10-million. AmeriCares had received $200,000, most of it online. The organization was preparing to send out a direct-mail appeal later this week. Direct Relief International had received $150,000, in large part because Google, which has given grants to the charity in the past, listed the charity’s name on its home page as one of two organizations to which it suggested donors contribute. Donations to Mercy Corps totaled $100,000.
Carolyn O’Brien, senior vice president of development with AmeriCares, said her charity was applying lessons from the tsunamis to the Myanmar cyclone. The group had identified a constituency of donors who gave generously to disasters and were comfortable donating online.
Jim Prosser, a spokesman with Direct Relief International, said his charity was pleased by the response from donors.
“We haven’t seen the number of people giving for a single event like they currently are since Hurricane Katrina,” he said in an e-mail.