Myanmar invites relief experts from Asia

May 14th, 2008 - 4:37 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok, May 14 (DPA) Myanmar’s junta has appealed for aid personnel from Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand to help its relief efforts for victims of Cyclone Nargis, while still delaying granting visas to many experts from elsewhere, a UN official said Wednesday. “I understand that Myanmar has requested specifically that neighbouring countries can help them with the response,” said Amanda Pitt, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“I think they want 160 personnel from these four places, just general personnel who are able to come in to bolster the Myanmar government’s relief efforts,” Pitt told a press conference in Bangkok.

Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand border Myanmar, and are listed among its main trading partners. Their governments have been more supportive of Myanmar’s military regime than those of western democracies, which have imposed economic sanctions on the country to punish the junta’s frequent crackdowns on its own citizenry and refusal to allow democratic reforms.

Myanmar has been under military dictatorships since 1962.

The regime appealed for international aid in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, that smashed into its central coast May 2 to 3, but it has dragged its feet on granting visas to scores of relief experts trying to get into the reclusive country to help facilitate the disaster relief effort.

The cyclone killed about 100,000 people and left between 1.5 to 2 million in need of food, water, shelter or medicines, according to UN estimates.

Although emergency supplies are now reaching portions of the affected population, 13 days after the storm struck, “the levels of aid getting in are not enough to meet the needs of the people”, said Pitt.

The World Food Programme (WFP), for instance, estimates that some 750,000 people are in need of food but it had been able to reach only 50,000 with emergency supplies, such as high-energy biscuits, as of Tuesday.

The Myanmar authorities have started to issue more visas to foreign aid workers this week, but the process remains mysterious.

“Progress has been made on the visa front,” said Pitt. “Visas are being issued in a number of locations such as New York, Geneva and Bangkok but there is no pattern emerging.”

The UN and other aid agencies claim that by waiving visas for foreign aid workers the disaster relief effort could have been doubled or tripled compared with the current state of preparedness.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej flew to Myanmar’s new capital of Naypyitaw Wednesday on a mission from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to persuade the regime to allow more foreign aid workers in.

There are growing concerns of a second wave of deaths in Myanmar from a potential “health catastrophe”, due to an outbreak of contagious diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

To date there have been no confirmed reports of such outbreaks, but conditions are ripe.

“We are not getting any reports of any explosive outbreaks, but that could change at any moment,” said Mureen Bermingham, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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