The U.S. government is relaxing financial sanctions against cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, U.S. News learned Tuesday afternoon.
The sanctions, implemented to apply pressure on the military dictatorship that controls Myanmar, in part prevented U.S. humanitarian organizations and individuals from donating money directly to causes within that impoverished country. That created little stir until Cyclone Nargis struck this week, killing at least 22,500 in the low-lying southern delta of the country, formerly known as Burma.
U.S. aid organizations, such as the American Red Cross, found that they could provide only supplies to the relief effort—not personnel nor money—under the sanctions rules. Nor could they accept specific donations from private American citizens to provide aid in the aftermath of this natural disaster.
The U.S. Treasury Department posted on its website a ruling (.pdf) at 5 p.m. that softened the sanctions to allow donations by U.S. citizens and charity directly to the relief effort.
American relief workers are also now allowed access to Myanmar under American regulations (The repressive Myanmar regime, however, has been slow to grant entry visas to new western workers).
The sanctions still prevent any aid to the government, unless an exception is granted by the U.S. government. John Rankin, a Treasury Department spokesman, says talks about softening the Myanmar sanctions had been ongoing. "The disaster pushed it over the finish line," he said.
For individuals now wanting to donate money specifically to the Nargis relief effort, the best option is to find an agency that is already on the ground in Myanmar, such as CARE, which had 500 full-time staffers in the impoverished country when the cyclone hit.
The military government that controls Myanmar is notoriously paranoid of outsiders, making it difficult for unfamiliar international organizations to enter the country after the storm. A list of NGOs and their work on the Myanmar relief effort can be found at interaction.org.