Friday, 16 May 2008

A Trickle of Aid Reaches Survivors

The Irrawaddy News

May 15, 2008 - International aid groups have sent hundreds of tons of emergency supplies to Burma’s cyclone victims, but local aid workers say no aid is reaching huge numbers of homeless in the Irrawaddy delta, 13 days after the devastation.

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), it has dispatched more than 700 tons of rice, high-energy biscuits and beans to nearly 100,000 people (about 7 kg per person) in cyclone-affected areas in Burma. However, there are at least 1.5 million homeless, say officials.

Aye Kyu, a resident of Laputta Township in the Irrawaddy delta, said some nongovernmental organizations such as UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have begun relief operations there, setting up temporary shelters, mobile clinics and sanitation facilities.

However, the relief effort there is still insufficient for the 80,000 homeless from outlying areas who have sought shelter in Laputta, where many people still live in temporary shelters such as monasteries and schools or outdoors.

A local aid worker told The Irrawaddy that relief organizations are focusing on the delta’s two main towns, Bogalay and Laputta, and outlying villages are not a high priority at this time.

Some aid supplies continue to be stolen, misappropriated or hoarded by Burmese authorities, say aid workers.

Aye Kyu said rice and diesel fuel donated by international aid groups are being sold by local authorities in some areas.

“The authorities are demanding between 13,000 and 15,000 kyat (US $11.25 and $12.99) for one bag of rice and 10,000 kyat (US $8.66) for one gallon of diesel fuel,” said Aye Kyu.

Officials of Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) said members purchased 1,000 towels on Wednesday to donate to survivors, but later discovered a World Food Programme stamp on the bags the towels were placed in.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the towels were bought at Rangoon’s Mingalar market. “When I arrived home, I found the letters WFP (World Food Program) stamped on the bags, together with the flag of Japan and a message in English and Burmese (donated by the Japanese people).”

“I’m not sure that the towels are from the WFP, but those bags are now found in Mingalar Market,” he said.

A worker at Rangoon airport told a Rangoon-based Irrawaddy correspondent that generators and water-treatment equipment unloaded from a foreign aircraft had been sent to Naypyidaw, seat of the Burmese military regime.

Richard Horsey, a spokesman for UN humanitarian operations in Bangkok, said investigations into cases of misappropriated aid are now underway.

Because of geographical and logistical difficulties, he said supplies are not reaching survivors quickly enough, but “the ability to deliver aid is increasing everyday.”

“But, we are still at the level that not nearly enough aid is going in to meet the needs of the affected people. There are several problems. Large flooded areas, remote isolated populations and damaged infrastructure from the storm.”

More trucks and small boats are needed to transport food and supplies to the affected areas, he said.

“We need the whole range of logistical assistance, not just flights into Rangoon.” said Horsey.

On Wednesday, about 200 Burmesse military personnel unloaded relief supplies from aircraft at the Rangoon airport, mostly working by hand in the absence of forklift trucks and other heavy-lifting equipment.

The lack of proper equipment was creating a bottleneck, according to UN logistical staff.

Meanwhile, John Holmes, under secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, said food, water, medical supplies and shelter material are arriving in Burma in increasing quantities from UN agencies, the Red Cross, nongovernmental organizations and other donors.

“But the question is how much of that aid is getting to the affected areas and people,” said Holmes, in a statement released on Wednesday.

There are now 100 UN international staff in Burma. About 46 visas have been issued to nongovernmental aid organizations, according to the UN statement.

With heavy rain forecast later this week, aid officials fear there’s not enough warehouse space to protect the supplies beginning to flow into Rangoon.

Officially, the Burmese regime says 38,491 people died and 27,838 people are missing following the cyclone. The Red Cross estimates up to 127,990 died and up to 2.15 million people are have been severely affected.

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