Guest Column

Proposed Inclusive Humanitarian Forum for Myanmar Should Not Include ASEAN

By Paul Greening 26 April 2023

The IHF is an issue for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit in Jakarta on May 5-12 and one of the main concerns is the involvement of ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center on Disaster Management (AHA) in the delivery of aid in Myanmar.

It is clear that it has neither the experience nor the capacity to deliver the aid, and most importantly, it includes representatives of the junta and is inevitably going to work with the State Administration Council (SAC). This means that not only will aid be inefficiently delivered, but the SAC will also weaponize aid and use it for its own strategic and political advantage whilst depriving the majority of the country, which is controlled by the resistance, from receiving aid.

I have heard that United Nations Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA) and Indonesia want the AHA to take the lead. The National Unity Government (NUG), ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) involved in the IHF strongly disagree with AHA involvement.

The objective of the IHF, which was proposed by the NUG and EAOs, is to find new channels to deliver aid to those seriously affected by the war including those in NUG and EAO controlled areas. This will not happen if the aid is channeled through the AHA or the UN. The situation on the ground is that aid is urgently needed where the vast majority of those in need, such as IDPs, are located and if this doesn’t happen then it will have dire consequences for the whole region. As the UN has demonstrated, aid cannot be delivered to the neediest in non-junta-controlled areas. This is blatantly obvious and should not even need to be stated but the UN continues doing this.

I believe the IHF has identified three options, of which only the third makes any sense. The first is that the SAC agrees to a humanitarian pause and allows free passage of aid in NUG and EAO areas via the IHF. This is of course ridiculous and about as likely as a no-fly zone with a US aircraft carrier in the Bay of Bengal. Another option stated is that there is an agreement with donors and countries bordering Myanmar for cross border aid to EAO and NUG areas. This is not quite as ridiculous as the first option but bordering countries would not formally agree to this. India, China and Thailand have, so far, demonstrated their support for the junta. The final option discussed is the only feasible one, namely donors agree to an upscale aid delivered through local networks with a lot more flexibility concerning fund transfers, reporting and any other adaption of existing systems to ensure aid reaches the most in need in EAO and NUG areas quickly and without large overheads.

In the IHF the obvious seems to be supported by the NUG, EAOs and CSOs but not by Indonesia and OCHA, who still want the AHA involved and taking the lead. One suspects this may be because of personal rather than humanitarian interests.

Paul Greening is an ex-UN senior staff member with over 20 years’ experience in six Asian countries working for six UN agencies and four INGOs. He worked in Sittwe, Rakhine State for the IOM from 2017 to 2020 and since then has been involved in advocacy against the illegal attempted coup and supporting those who have suffered from it.