Thursday, 22 May 2008

Cyclone victims cannot wait for succour

Mungpi - Mizzima News

New Delhi – Even as the United Nations and regional countries gear up to call for more aid for Burma's cyclone victims, aid workers on the ground said time is running out.

The UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, said they will hold a pledging conference for cyclone victims in Rangoon on Sunday.

An aid worker in Rangoon, who requested anonymity, said cyclone victims are dying by the hour as several villages, where the cyclone left its mark, had not received any relief or aid supplies.

"The conference, in principle is welcome, but is behind time. Time has been wasted in saving lives," the aid worker said.

The aid worker, whose organization has been providing aid extensively to villages in Irrawaddy delta, said more aid supplies and access to the affected areas is the need of the hour.

"It is not the time to talk but act, if we want to save lives," he added.

On Monday, Foreign ministers of the ASEAN agreed to form a task force that will give shape to the ASEAN-led mechanism in coordinating and liaising with the UN and the international community in assisting Burma to recover from the impact of Cyclone Nargis.

The ASEAN and the UN also agreed to hold a pledging conference on Sunday that will invite international donors to assist Burma in their effort to recover from the cyclone.

But the ASEAN's initiative, accepted by the Burmese junta after more than two weeks of the cyclone, could be the junta's ploy of avoiding international pressure to open their doors for aid agencies to help cyclone victims, the Burma Campaign UK said.

"This is a dilatory tactic being played by the regime. They don't care about the people dying," Mark Farmaner, director of the UK based Burma Campaign said.

Farmaner said, the junta is worried about the voices of the international community that has demanded unilateral action against the junta and refusing permission to aid workers to enter the affected areas.

"So, they are willing to accept the Asean-led initiative," said Farmaner, adding that he does not even believe that the Asean-led mechanism would be implemented at all as the junta is just playing another game.

"The Asean-led mechanism is not enough to save lives and worse, it might never be implemented at all," he added.

Meanwhile, the Burmese government on Tuesday announced a three-day national mourning for the cyclone victims, after more than two weeks. Critics said it is just a show and asked; Where was Than Shwe all this time?

Than Shwe, Burma's military supremo, in the past two weeks since Cyclone Nargis hit the country's coastal region, made two public appearances – during the constitutional referendum and on Saturday, to take a look at cyclone victims.

Win Min, a Burmese military analyst based in Thailand, said Than Shwe has been in his jungle capital Naypyitaw ever since the cyclone hit Burma and was not concerned about the impact of the devastating cyclone.

"His only concern is for the referendum and he does not care if millions of people die," Win Min said.

However, after a 92.4 percent approval of the constitution in the rigged referendum, Than Shwe finally made an appearance at government orchestrated refugee camps in Rangoon and Irrawaddy division.

The government said it has been providing aid and assistance to cyclone victims and even declared that the phase of emergency is over and it is embarking on the next phase of reconstruction.

However, the United Nations said only less than 25 percent of the estimated 2.5 million cyclone victims have received initial aid and more aid – food, water and medicines – are needed to avoid the 'Second wave of Death.'

The World Food Programme, which has a number of warehouses in Burma including in Laputta and Bogale townships, which are among the hardest hit by the cyclone, said they have been able to despatch food to 340,000 people out of their targeted 750,000 victims.

"Clearly, more aid is needed for the victims," Marcus Prior, WFP spokesperson told Mizzima.

But Burma Campaign UK's Farmaner said the Asean-led mechanism and the UN's efforts to hold a pledging conference might not help, as the Burmese regime makes promises, whenever it faces pressure but never keeps them.
"Because we know that the regime lies, over and over again,"
Farmaner said.

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