Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Aid Plan Is Based on 2004 Tsunami, Asean Says

By Michael Heath and Jean Chua

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar's regional allies will funnel aid into the southern Irrawaddy River Delta, the region hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis, using a plan based on relief operations in Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, will send aid workers to distribute international supplies, the group said in a statement after a meeting in Singapore yesterday.

``The Myanmar government has agreed to accept the immediate dispatch of medical teams from all the Asean countries,'' the group said yesterday. Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan will head the taskforce that will work with the United Nations and the military rulers of the country formerly known as Burma.

Myanmar's junta declared three days of mourning from today for the more than 130,000 people dead or missing after the cyclone struck 18 days ago, the British Broadcasting Corp. said, citing state television. The disaster was the worst to hit Southeast Asia since the 2004 tsunami killed 220,000 people in countries in the Indian Ocean.

The UN-led relief operation mounted in Aceh province after the December 2004 tsunami involved the transporting of thousands of aid workers and tons of relief supplies by helicopter to remote landing strips or by sea to devastated areas. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra caused the tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in Aceh.

As many as 2.4 million people in Myanmar are living in poor conditions, most of them without shelter, enough food, drinking water or medical care, the UN said.

Full Cooperation

The world body's top relief official John Holmes visited three cyclone-affected areas in Myanmar yesterday, including the town of Labutta in the Irrawaddy delta, with full cooperation from the Myanmar authorities, the UN said on its Web site. He will hold talks with Myanmar government officials today.

The UN's World Food Program has organized 13 air cargo shipments into Yangon airport and dispatched enough supplies to feed 250,000 people, it said yesterday. The world body's International Telecommunication Union has deployed 100 satellite terminals to help coordination of the aid effort in Myanmar.

Myanmar's generals, who have ruled the nation of 48 million people since 1962, insisted they could handle the distribution effort themselves and barred international aid workers from traveling to the delta from the former capital, Yangon.

The junta ordered flags to be flown at half staff during the mourning period. It was called yesterday as Myanmar's neighbor and regional ally, China, ordered three days of national mourning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 30,000 people.

Assessment Team

Asean has sent an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team to Myanmar, the group said. ``Myanmar should allow more international relief workers into the stricken areas, as the need is most urgent, given the unprecedented scale of the humanitarian disaster,'' it said.

Asean has long been criticized by Western nations for failing to press Myanmar to restore democracy and censure the junta for human rights abuses. The group consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Myanmar May 22 to work with the authorities to ``significantly increase'' the aid flowing through Yangon to the delta, the UN said. His visit comes three days before an international donor conference is held in Yangon to raise money for cyclone survivors.

The international community should ``rise to the occasion and translate their solidarity and sympathy into concrete commitments to help the people of Myanmar emerge from the tragedy,'' Ban and Asean chief Surin said in a joint statement.

The U.S. military flew 15 disaster relief flights into Myanmar during the weekend and yesterday, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The cargo planes delivered 330 metric tons of supplies, including water, blankets, hygiene kits, bed nets, plastic sheeting, food and medical supplies, he said. There have been a total of 31 such flights into Myanmar to help in cyclone relief.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net; Jean Chua in Singapore at jchua4@bloomberg.net.

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