A UNHCR-supported camp near Myitkyina is host to internally displaced people who have fled the fighting in the state of Kachin in Myanmar. A new report affirms the May 30 truce between the government and the Kachin rebels. Photo by: A. Kirchhof / UNHCR

Donors are pouring into Myanmar after decades of military rule, but aid overflow is a risk unless programs are properly coordinated with a government that is struggling to cope with all the offers of assistance.

“The greatest impediment for involvement is that there is a lack of government capacity. Not only is the government reforming its economy but it has also been overwhelmed with a number of major events,” Jim Della-Giacoma, Asia program director for the International Crisis Group, told Devex.

Della-Giacoma compared the situation to past experiences in East Timor in 1999 or Indonesia’s tsunami-stricken Aceh province in 2004-2005, where aid and investment were not delivered in an “orderly” fashion. He gave credit to the Myanmar government for streamlining the process and striving to do a proper assessment of its needs and the kind of assistance it should receive from donors.

Both big donors like Japan — which recently announced massive assistance plans for the country  and smaller aid groups and NGOs wishing to participate in Myanmar’s statebuilding and peacekeeping efforts must “understand the situation” and come up with concrete proposals, which he warned could take time to take root as the government grapples with dramatic economic and social changes. Devex reported in April 2012 about concerns of donors “moving too fast” into the country.

The latest OECD figures show that Myanmar received $376 million in ODA in 2011, a figure expected to surge while the country drums up increasing attention from the international community as it emerges from decades of military rule and underdevelopment.

New hope for peace in Kachin State

Devex spoke to the ICG expert on the same day the organization released a new report finding potential for lasting peace in the May 30 truce between the government and rebels in Myanmar’s Kachin state.

The tentative ceasefire, Della-Giacoma said, means the time is ripe for the international community to have a presence in Kachin state.

In what may be the final episode of one of the world’s longest-running internal conflicts, the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Organization etched a peace agreement last month. The rebels are the last of 11 ethnic insurgent groups to secure a deal to lay down their arms since independence from Great Britain and after several failed attempts in 1994 and 2011.

Della-Giacoma explained that the freshly-inked pact is an important step towards a permanent peace agreement, enabling the easier delivery of humanitarian relief to people internally displaced by the conflict in Kachin.

“It becomes much more possible and much more of a reality that development can be delivered in this part of Myanmar which until recently has been gripped by conflict and war […] This agreement will create the environment that will allow development programs to take place,” he said.

Donors and the international community should kickstart plans for long-term humanitarian assistance and development efforts in Kachin, in close coordination with the government, Della-Giacoma added.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.