Aid pledging conference for Myanmar attracts 50 countries

May 25th, 2008 - 10:12 am ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 25 (DPA) An aid pledging conference here Sunday has attracted about 50 countries, which will be asked to open their cheque books to help an estimated 2.4 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis that devastated the country earlier this month. In addition to bilateral donors, the conference includes UN agencies, ministers from the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), the Red Cross movement and at least five non-governmental organisations, UN sources confirmed.

The meeting, which was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. with an opening address by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will be co-chaired by UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes and Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.

Cyclone Nargis swept across Myanmar’s central coast May 2-3, leaving some 133,000 people dead or missing, and another 2.4 million desperately in need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

More than three weeks after the catastrophe, aid has reached only 25 percent of the affected people, many of whom have been stranded without access to supplies in remote regions of the Irrawaddy delta.

Myanmar’s ruling junta has come under growing international criticism for failing to facilitate a multi-million dollar disaster relief effort for their own people by slowing logistics and preventing foreign workers from entering the country or the delta.

“The purpose of the conference is to identify obstacles to getting the aid to the people that need it, and identify ways to overcome those obstacles to be able to move forward as quickly as possible,” said Richard Horsey, spokesman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The conference will be a diplomatic test for Asean, which has set up a task force to ease the implementation of the aid flow with Myanmar’s paranoid generals. Myanmar joined the South East Asian nations’ bloc in 1997.

“Asean is providing the diplomatic architecture,” said Surin at a recent press conference. “What we bring to the table is a degree of confidence, a degree of comfort.”

What Asean will need to do is persuade Myanmar’s junta to guarantee free assess for foreign experts to the cyclone-hit areas and assurances that pledges reach the people in need, otherwise the aid is unlikely to be forthcoming.

“This is make or break for Asean,” said Sarah Ireland, regional director for Oxfam.

Ban received an assurance from Myanmar junta head Senior General Than Shwe Friday that visas and access would be allowed for all foreign experts, but donors will want guarantees and further details Sunday.

“I’m sure that they will keep their commitment,” Ban said Saturday in Bangkok. He flew in to Yangon Sunday morning to open the conference.

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