UN criticises Myanmar for tardy cyclone relief

May 13th, 2008 - 8:49 pm ICT by admin  

New York, May 13 (IANS) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed his frustration with Myanmar’s “unacceptably slow” response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis and called on the military government to do its utmost to prevent the disaster from becoming even more serious. “I want to register my deep concern - and immense frustration - at the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis,” he said Monday at a press conference here.

Unless more aid gets into the country - very quickly - it could face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today’s crisis, he pointed out.

“I, therefore, call, in the most strenuous terms, on the Government of Myanmar to put its people’s lives first. It must do all that it can to prevent the disaster from becoming even more serious,” Ban said.

International relief agencies estimate that around 1.5 million people are at severe risk following the May 2 cyclone, while the official death toll reported by the government has reached almost 32,000, with over 34,000 others missing.

Last week the UN called on the government to allow aid workers to enter the country more speedily and said some international relief supplies were being held up at Myanmar’s main airport.

Ban said there were encouraging signs that the government had “made some initial moves to ease access restrictions” and that many aid airlifts had arrived, but added that “much more is needed”.

While the UN and international aid agencies can help tackle the emergency, Ban said staff on the ground “were grievously over-stretched and the government continues to deny visas to most foreign aid workers”.

The secretary-general said the UN has been able to reach less than a third of the people at risk - about 270,000 people. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that the amount of food allowed into the country so far was less than one-tenth of what is needed, while rice stocks within Myanmar were close to exhaustion.

He called on the government to set up major logistics operations to deliver supplies to the most affected areas. He said: “This requires the specialised expertise of the major international relief agencies. Myanmar cannot do it alone.”

For its part, the UN plans to set up a logistics base in the region, probably in Thailand, to make sure that aid is channelled into Myanmar in a systematic and orderly way.

Appealing for a speedier response, Ban said: “I emphasise that this is not about politics. It is about saving people’s lives. There is absolutely no time to lose.”

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