Progress in Myanmar disaster relief, but it’s still inadequate: UN

May 14th, 2008 - 10:32 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok, May 14 (DPA) Thirteen days after Cyclone Nargis smashed into Myanmar, the international community has made some progress in getting emergency aid and even aid workers into the reclusive, military-controlled nation, but not enough, the UN said Wednesday. “We’re seeing more flights getting in to the country, we’re seeing more relief items reaching people in the delta region and in Yangon, and more people getting in to help. But the levels of aid getting in are not adequate and not enough to meet the needs of the people on the ground,” said Amanda Pitt, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is heading a multi-million dollar disaster relief programme in Myanmar.

Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar’s central coastal region May 2 to 3, killing up to 100,000 people and leaving up to two million without access to food, water, shelter and medicines, according to UN estimates.

While Myanmar’s ruling junta has appealed for international aid, it has thrown up obstacles to deliveries and last week refused to grant visas to scores of foreign relief experts seeking to enter the country to facilitate the logistics of a massive emergency programme.

In recent days there has been some progress noted in the granting of visas to experts.

“Progress has been seen on the visas front,” said Pitt. “Visas are being issued in a a number of locations whether in New York, Geneva or Bangkok, but there is no pattern emerging.”

Myanmar Tuesday put out an appeal for 160 relief personnel from neighbouring Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand, to assist the government’s own disaster relief efforts, she noted.

There have been no official explanations offered as to why some experts are allowed in and others aren’t.

Meanwhile, the aid push is also facing huge logistical obstacles getting supplies out to the countryside on account of the poor, and now cyclone damaged infrastructure in the Irrawaddy delta, the worst hit region.

Roads are poor in the delta and bridges can handle only five-tonne loads on trucks, posing logistical challenges.

“The good news from Yangon is that the port is open again,” said World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Marcus Prior.

“But it is not clear yet what size of vessels we can get in,” he added.

The WFP is also looking into the possibility of using helicopters to take supplies to some of the most remote areas in the delta, which remain totally cut off from the supply flow.

Of the estimated 750,000 people in need of food, the WFP estimates that it has so far been able to reach only 50,000.

Meanwhile, the country’s devastated population now face a new threat of an ongoing tropical storm that could turn into another cyclone. Chances are “good” that a storm in the Indian Ocean could be upgraded to a cyclone as it heads toward landfall in Myanmar, the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre said Wednesday.

“The potential for the development of a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is upgraded to good,” the centre said late Tuesday in a forecast issued from its headquarters in Hawaii.

The storm was situated about 30 nautical miles (56 km) south-west of Yangon at the time the alert was issued.

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