Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why it won't work to air drop aid to Burma

Barbara Stocking:

Without good intelligence it's very hard to run an effective humanitarian operation - especially an airborne one. It would be only too easy to drop the food miles from the nearest village, or even in water or swamp. Food is perishable and leaving it outside for too long could ruin it. You can't drop a well or a sanitation system from the sky without specialists to set it up. Communities could find themselves with aid completely inappropriate to their situation.

The final stage of food aid distribution is often the most difficult in the whole operation. Aid workers don't turn up at a starving, desperate village with a truck full of food without having organised the trip with village elders or officials first. Things can easily go wrong when giving food to hungry people, and there have to be staff on the ground to organise the process. There are other problems too. Arriving unannounced could lead to a riot, with the strongest getting the food and the weakest leaving with nothing. Crowd control is vital.

Without these precautions the aid would be very unlikely to go to the people who need it most. There are already concerns about the effectiveness of aid and there is nothing to stop the local criminals taking air dropped aid and selling it on for profit. Conflicts between communities, ethnic groups and the rich and poor would be exacerbated. It is impossible to monitor and control the distribution of air drops and ensure the most vulnerable people actually receive the aid.

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