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Cablegate: Burma - Humanitarian Disaster Declaration

VZCZCXRO4104
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0952/01 2750938
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020938Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6606
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 2232
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3325
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 0862

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000952

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS
USDOC FOR 4430/MAC/ASIA/OPB/VLC/HPPHO
STATE FOR USAID/DCHA/OFDA KY LUU, ROBERT THAYER, TOM ROGERS
STATE FOR USAID/DCHA/OFDA DAA GREG GOTTLIEB
BANGKOK FOR OFDA SENIOR REGIONAL ADVISOR TOM DOLAN
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WILLIAM BERGER
GENEVA FOR USAID NANCY KYLOH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV KSCA TBIO EAID VM
SUBJECT: BURMA - HUMANITARIAN DISASTER DECLARATION

REF: A) RANGOON 901 B) RANGOON 874

1. This is an action cable. Please see para 4.

2. Summary. The current political situation in Burma has
exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis, particularly among
women and children in Burma. 2007 UNICEF figures estimate that more
than 35 percent of children under five were malnourished. NGOs
estimate this rate is closer to 50 percent in some areas. The
unexplained fuel price hike on August 15 triggered an increase in
commodity and transportation prices. A majority of the Burmese
people earn less than $1/day, and spend more than 75 percent of
their income on food. Declining purchasing power and the rising
costs of basic needs, estimated to be increasing 23 percent per
month, have caused the level of malnutrition to rise throughout the
country, particularly in Rakhine State and Irrawaddy and Magway
Divisions. In response, CDA Shari Villarosa has declared a
humanitarian disaster and requests $50,000 in OFDA assistance. End
Summary.

Disaster Declaration
--------------------

3. Following an assessment by the Mission Disaster Relief Officer
(MDRO), I am declaring a humanitarian disaster in Burma under my
authority as Chief of Mission. The Mission has confirmed that a
humanitarian crisis exists, as prices of basic commodities continue
to rise, access to foodstuffs becomes more limited, and more
Burmese children suffer from malnourishment. Further, I confirm
that it is in the interest of the United States to provide this
assistance to Burma.

4. Action Request: In consultation with the U.S. Office of Foreign
Disaster Assistance (OFDA) Senior Regional Advisor for Asia, Embassy
Rangoon requests $50,000 under the Ambassador's authority to support
emergency relief efforts in the worst affected areas of Burma,
including Rangoon. Post has selected Save the Children to receive
$50,000 in emergency assistance and requests a fund cite be
established for the transfer of funds. End Action Request.

Situation in Burma
------------------

5. The Burmese Government, without prior warning nor an
explanation, more than doubled fuel prices on August 15. This
action triggered an immediate increase in commodity and
transportation costs (Ref A). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
recently acknowledged that the majority of Burmese earn less than a
dollar a day, but claimed that it was enough for them to live on.
The reality is that urban workers on average earn less than
$30/month, and those living in rural areas earn even less.
According to the UNDP, the Burmese spend more than 75 percent of
their income on food expenditures. Embassy Rangoon estimates
inflation in Burma at more than 57 percent. The kyat continues to
depreciate against the dollar, falling 7.3 percent since August 15.
While the people's purchasing power continues to erode, the cost of
basic needs in Burma increases at an average of 23 percent,
according to the International Committee for the Red Cross.

6. According to 2007 UNICEF figures, 35 percent of children under
the age of five are malnourished. Seven percent of children are
severely underweight. International NGOS working in Burma estimate
that this rate is closer to 50 percent in some regions, although
concrete figures are not available.

7. There are many reasons for the increase in malnutrition
throughout Burma. An unfortunate cycle of drought and flood at the
beginning of the rainy season damaged gardens, food stocks and paddy
seedlings. More than 580,000 acres of rice and paddy crops were
affected, particularly in areas including Mandalay, Sagaing, East
and West Bago, Magwe, Irrawaddy, and Rangoon Divisions. Due to the
increase in fuel prices, higher costs of production, and lower
output, the price of rice has risen 16 percent since August 15.
Transportation costs have increased, and were passed to the consumer
through higher commodity prices. Additionally, in late September,
due to the government response to demonstrations in Rangoon and
Mandalay, the World Food Program (WFP) was unable to deliver food
rations throughout the country. The government on October 1 lifted
restrictions on the movement of food, allowing the WFP to resume
food shipments.

Government and International Response

RANGOON 00000952 002 OF 002


--------------------------------------

8. Beginning on August 16, the United Solidarity Development
Association (USDA) and the Rangoon City Development Council, both
backed by the Burmese Government, began to sell rice at 550 kyat
($0.40) for 2 kilograms to low income groups in Rangoon. However,
this rice was not fit for consumption. This program only targeted
the people of Rangoon, and the GOB has failed to adequately address
the needs of the millions of Burmese living outside of the city.
9. Local and international NGOS continue to address the problem of
malnutrition in Burma. World Food Program, operating in
collaboration with 22 UN and NGO partners, provides food assistance
to vulnerable people in Myanmar. Action Contre La Faim Myanmar
(ACF), working with UNHCR, works in Rakhine State, running clinics
to prevent, detect, and treat severe malnutrition in women and
children (Ref B). UNICEF runs a program to assist women and
children on health issues, including promoting and extending access
to safe drinking water, and improving basic health services.
Recommendations
---------------

10. OFDA should support emergency activities in the worst affected
areas of Rakhine State and Magway and Irrawaddy Divisions, focusing
on providing food to malnourished women and children. Post has
selected Save the Children Myanmar to be the recipient of $50,000 in
emergency assistance and will communicate with OFDA on the transfer
of funds. Clearly, opportunities for additional assistance exist.
We will coordinate further with OFDA regarding additional funding.

VILLAROSA

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