The basic outlines of the situation are laid out here. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and the ruling dictatorship (they're the ones who renamed the country Myanmar) believes that letting outside aidworkers care for the people would destabilize their rule and let outside organizations that don't like them gain a foothold in the country. So they're hardly permitting any aid in at all, and many thousands more people may die from the diseases that result when flooding mixes sewage and clean water. This is why dictatorship isn't the best form of government.
I've been communicating with a friend who works in an NGO in Vietnam, who knows a guy who works in Burma, to ask for aid advice. She writes:
I did get another brief email last night from this guy in-country, but the only thing of note that he really said was: "Things in Yangon are improving rapidly. Obviously that's not the case in the delta. But to be honest, here in the city, the recovery has been faster than in nola."
Still, the situation in nola was so terrible that saying the recovery is faster than nola isn't saying much...also, the situation in the delta is the real disaster. He also says that "save the children seems to be the best organized INGO on the ground right now". But maybe the network of monks can deliver supplies in areas where save the children can't (?)
The aforementioned 'network of monks' is a group that MoveOn is directing people to, which I asked her about. In ordinary situations, I'd go through the big international NGOs which I'm familiar with. But the monks may be able to get aid into the country to the places where it's needed through their own networks of monasteries. Here's what MoveOn said in an email:
Humanitarian relief is urgently needed, but Burma's government could easily delay, divert or misuse any aid. Today the International Burmese Monks Organization, including many leaders of the democracy protests last fall, launched a new effort to provide relief through Burma's powerful grass roots network of monasteries--the most trusted institutions in the country and currently the only source of housing and support in many devastated communities. Click below to help the Burmese people with a donation and see a video appeal to Avaaz from a leader of the monks:
Giving to the monks is a smart, fast way to get aid directly to Burma's people. Governments and international aid organizations are important, but face challenges--they may not be allowed into Burma, or they may be forced to provide aid according to the junta's rules. And most will have to spend large amounts of money just setting up operations in the country. The monks are already on the front lines of the aid effort--housing, feeding, and supporting the victims of the cyclone since the day it struck. The International Burmese Monks Organization will send money directly to each monastery through their own networks, bypassing regime controls.
Says my friend, "I would imagine this claim about established networks of monks is true, though I'm not sure how one would be able to really verify it..." If anybody knows anything else about these monks, please do tell. They're firmly opposed to the military dictatorship, and have staged protests against it, so if you're looking for people who are likely to bring aid into the country without government approval, they're probably the people to turn to. I'm thinking that I'll be donating through them and Save The Children, unless someone can tell me about a better way.