What can OFDA do when its efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to disaster victims are blocked by government authorities in the afflicted country? How do we respond when food, plastic sheeting, blankets, medicines, and other essential relief commodities are blocked from timely distribution to people who desperately need help?
Those questions of “humanitarian access” have surged to the forefront yet again in recent months. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May, which killed an estimated 85,000 or more people, authorities in Burma impeded international assistance to the disaster zone for several critical weeks. In Zimbabwe, authorities in June ordered the suspension of humanitarian operations by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In Sudan, authorities in May slowed relief operations by temporarily closing all airports in Darfur to humanitarian traffic. In Ethiopia, government officials are considering new rules that might seriously restrict the work of humanitarian agencies.
Amid these troubling developments, the good news is that emergency relief from OFDA usually arrives rapidly and efficiently to help distressed populations in the vast majority of disasters. In the past five years alone, USAID has responded to 355 declared disasters in all regions of the world.
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