Myanmar finally gets 10 helicopters for cyclone relief: WFP

June 11th, 2008 - 11:06 pm ICT by IANS  

DPA
Bangkok, June 11 (DPA) Ten UN helicopters needed to deliver food and other emergency supplies to remote areas in Myanmar’s cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta were finally delivered Wednesday, a World Food Programme (WFP) official confirmed. “As of today there are 10 WFP helicopters in Myanmar,” said WFP spokesman Paul Risley. “These 10 helicopters will greatly add to our ability to directly target specific villages and communities that we know have not yet received aid up till now.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon won approval for WFP to fly in 10 helicopters to military-ruled Myanmar last month.

Five weeks after Cyclone Nargis smashed in Myanmar’s central coast May 2-3, no comprehensive assessment of the damage wrought by the catastrophe has yet been made.

A joint team of 250 people from the UN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) and the Myanmar government began assessing the damage Wednesday and expects to present its findings at a June 25 Asean Task Force meeting.

The exact numbers on Myanmar’s misery remain a mystery.

The official figure of almost 134,000 dead and missing was first released by the government in mid-May, and has not been updated for weeks.

The UN estimates that 2.4 million people were affected by the cyclone, and only 1.3 million of those have been provided for over the past five weeks.

That would leave an estimated one million people who have received nothing since the storm hit, but the figure cannot be confirmed.

The UN agencies working in Myanmar have never been informed about the extent of the government’s aid work with its own people.

A meeting is planned Friday between government agencies and the Red Cross Red Crescent, the first since the crisis began.

Even the number of international workers who have been allowed into the country remains a mystery.

On Wednesday, The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, claimed that the regime had issued visas to 911 foreign aid workers over the past five weeks, seemingly debunking criticisms that the junta had blocked international aid access to the country.

The UN could not confirm the 911 figure.

“While some improvement on access has been noted, with about 180 visas now issued for UN staff alone, clearly international staff do require much more sustained access to the delta area, particularly for technical staff,” said Amanda Pitt, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Some 90 international staff have accessed the affected areas.” she told a press conference in Bangkok.

Lack of adequate information on the extent of damage caused by Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s recent history, has reportedly hampered donors’ willingness to pledge relief funds to the country, whose ruling junta is a pariah regime among Western democracies.

“Funding for the flash appeal currently stands at just 40 percent,” said Pitt. Another UN flash appeal is expected to be made later this month after the June 25 assessment reports.
DPA

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