By WAI MOE
Twenty-one international nongovernmental organizations involved in relief and recovery work in Cyclone Nargis in Burma slammed a joint report by the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Thailand-based Emergency Assistance Team (EAT) as “inaccurate” and a “disservice” on Thursday.
In a joint letter, the NGO group said that the report, titled “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta,” published on February 27, was “both inaccurate and does a disservice to the courageous and resilient survivors of Cyclone Nargis.”
The report focused on human rights violations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. The authors said that assessments done with the collaboration of the military government have reported little on the human rights situation for survivors and relief workers. .
The response letter said, “We found a number of shortcomings in the report, including its premise, methodology and most of its findings.”
Defending the relief effort, the letter said: “Dozens of international and local relief agencies along with foreign embassies are continually examining humanitarian and delivery from inside Burma. They are able to do so independently and first-hand.
“The international humanitarian assistance delivered to date has been life-saving and life sustaining for millions of cyclone survivors. It has reached them without significant interference.”
The authors of the Johns Hopkins-EAT report did not get information from the more than 50 international and independent organizations which have operated “on-the-ground” humanitarian work over the past nine months in the country, according to the response letter.
The letter claimed that misleading reports could undermine further aid to cyclone survivors.
Johns Hopkins and EAT said that their report is “the only community-based, independent assessment” of the cyclone relief effort.
“The voice, experiences and eyewitness accounts of the response to Cyclone Nargis have been missing from the international debate around the relief effort,” said the report, describing part of its methodology.
Researchers said in the report that independent assessment of the Nargis relief response proved to be challenging and the assessments were done without the collaboration of the military government.
Based on interviews with Nargis victims from the Irrawaddy delta, the report included accounts of the arrests of local relief workers and forced labor, including some cases of child labor, in the disaster area. Cyclone survivors were forced to work on military-run construction projects such as the repair of military bases, schools, roads and other infrastructure projects, the report said.
The NGO response letter said that international law is clear that public work enacted during an immediate emergency period is not forced labor.
The 21 NGOs included 11 US-based NGOs—Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), CARE, Hope International, International Development Enterprises (IDE), International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Pact, Population Services International (PSI), Relief International, Save the Children and World Vision.
Others NGOs were South African NGO Action Aid, the Burnet Institute, which is a medical research and public health group in Australia, an Italian NGO called CESVI, the Danish Church Aid, the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, Malteser International, based in Germany, a London-based charity group, Merlin, the Norwegian Peoples Aid, Norwegian Refugee Council and Welthungerhilfe (German Agro-Action).