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Update on aid effort from Rangoon -

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Update on aid effort from Rangoon

The World Today - Friday, 9 May , 2008 12:20:00

Reporter: Tim Costello

ELEANOR HALL: World Vision's Tim Costello is in Rangoon and says he is appealing directly to
members of the military government to let more international help into the country.

His organisation employs 600 development workers and he was handing out rice himself in the Burmese
capital. But while the cyclone's impact in Rangoon was not so severe as in the Irrawaddy Delta
region, Tim Costello told me that he was nonetheless horrified by the devastation there.

TIM COSTELLO: What just shocks you is the huge amount of damage that you see. Absolutely huge trees
are totally uprooted and houses are crushed and walls crushed. Every billboard crushed.

ELEANOR HALL: Have you managed to get anywhere near the Delta yourself yet?

TIM COSTELLO: No, I haven't. Our staff are down there and I am hoping to get down there today.

ELEANOR HALL: What are they telling you about the situation there?

TIM COSTELLO: Oh, that there is still so many people in villages they haven't got to, they can't
get to. Bridges are down. Huge trees are across roads. Without helicopters and quick access and the
sort of provisional temporary bridges that a huge, fully engaged aid effort allows you to build, it
is just slow. Frustratingly slow. The fear of water-borne diseases, dysentery, malaria and cholera.
Outbreaks are really, really high so we are on the cusp of another epidemic if we can't secure
those people their water supplies, give them shelter and give them really some hope because this is
horrifying in its scale.

ELEANOR HALL: You are clearly not getting that sort of quick access. You say you are on the cusp.
What is going to happen if that doesn't come through very soon?

TIM COSTELLO: Look, it is a trickle of aid getting through. The government is trusting only those
international organisations that have local capacity. Our job is to say, "Look, under international
law there is humanitarian space that has absolutely nothing to do with politics." It is just a
space that says every citizen should enjoy protection. Getting that message through has proved,
obviously difficult.

ELEANOR HALL: Are you trying to get some direct contact with members of the military government at
this stage?

TIM COSTELLO: Yeah, we have been working, as have other agencies, quietly behind doors. Speaking to
a number of them, and you know, again it is that style of trying to persuade them. There are some
visa's being offered but there are so many others where people have the skills to really do things
fast which is different to the development skills of most people on the ground here.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you feel that as a representative of an aid agency, you have a better chance of
convincing the government there in Rangoon than perhaps government to government contacts - even UN
representatives coming in, and asking them to open up the channels?

TIM COSTELLO: Look, it is certainly the case. Having been here 30 years and being known by the
government and being respected and loved by the people has given an open door so we are travelling
to the areas which weren't our registered affected areas, which weren't our registered licence
area. It is obviously a different scenario given years of isolation and distrust of anyone from
outside.

We have seen some signs that some more visas are being given. It is a stop-start situation.
Obviously you are working with political constraints and it is what it is. You as a development
agency, try and do what you can because lives are held in the balance.

ELEANOR HALL: You say that the people are very stoic, when you've gone out there and you've been
handing out the aid, what, I mean, people have lost families - clearly complete devastation. What
is the sort of mood there?

TIM COSTELLO: Look, it is like it was with the tsunami areas. There is a numbness where life is in
slow motion and you know, you just have to keep going for the sake of those around and you do. In
this horrific apocalyptic crisis, they are just doing the same.

ELEANOR HALL: It must be particularly hard when you see children left without their parents?

TIM COSTELLO: Yes, it is terrifying and yesterday two little boys who were there getting rice,
their mother is still alive. One brother who is 11 picked up his seven-year-old brother because the
water was always up to waist, over his brothers head and literally on his shoulders got him to
higher ground and again, that was in Yangoon not in the epic-centre so yeah, it is just awful
stories.

ELEANOR HALL: Tim Costello, you are used to being in areas of disaster and great human tragedy, but
how does this one compare with some other places you've been like in the midst of the tsunami?

TIM COSTELLO: Look, this is more like Banda Aceh There, you had a death toll virtually doubling
every day for nearly two weeks, you had what was a very closed society. There was a civil war going
on and it was very sensitive with the political restraints.

This has all of those overtones and there is, as I say, just extraordinary stoicism, courage for
people to get on with their lives but you know that here is a race against the clock to get to
people to save lives and you know that even when you have done your best there, you feel almost
some guilt that you didn't do enough. You feel, no-one can actually bring back these people who
have died. You know this is now a social trauma that will go on and on and so yeah, it is a very
tragic and depressing feeling.

ELEANOR HALL: Tim Costello, thanks very much for joining us.

TIM COSTELLO: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That is World Vision's Tim Costello speaking to me from Rangoon.