International humanitarian assistance to Myanmar : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Development Studies
Myanmar is a country with many complex political and humanitarian issues. While it is rich in natural resources, it remains one of the poorest and most undemocratic countries in Asia. It has a history of ethnic and political division and many of the antagonists are still to find lasting reconciliation. Myanmar has been controlled by military juntas and former army generals since a coup in 1962. The focus of the regime is security and the preservation of its position as the ruling elite, at the expense of democracy and the humanitarian needs of the general population. The international response to the humanitarian plight of the Myanmar people has been mixed and the provision of international aid to Myanmar has become a highly contentious issue. This thesis seeks to critically examine international aid to Myanmar so as to determine whether under present conditions humanitarian assistance should, and can, be effectively provided to the country. In doing so recent theories relating to humanitarian assistance and intervention are reviewed and the historical and political circumstances that have influenced the humanitarian situation in Myanmar are explored. A description of the current humanitarian situation and levels of international assistance is provided, and donor, practitioner and activist perspectives on international assistance are determined. The results of this study show that Myanmar has serious humanitarian needs. Despite being a difficult environment in which to operate, with complex political problems, it is still possible to conduct effective programmes in the country. Existing programmes do not reach all those in need, nor do current programmes address many of the core problems. International assistance does help fill the gap left largely unattended by the junta. Any lasting political solution requires the participation of all stakeholders in the country, especially the military. As the junta is unlikely to relinquish political control, regardless of pressure levelled against the senior generals, the need for ongoing international aid remains obvious. When all the considerations about providing aid to Myanmar are taken into account, it is apparent from this research that the conditions are serious enough to justify that there is a humanitarian imperative to help, and that there are sound opportunities to do so.