05 June 2008
New Delhi (Mizzima) – Access to the Irrawaddy delta region is still a huge problem a month after the killer cyclone struck Burma, though visa applications have been granted in small numbers, international aid agencies said.
So far at least 143 international aid workers have been granted entry visa to Burma, said an official at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Bangkok.
"There is some progress on that [obtaining visa]," said the official.
While many international aid workers have been provided access to the delta region they are restricted from staying for long periods, said an official at the United Nations information department in Rangoon.
"But definitely there is progress," the official said, adding that the UN and other agencies are pushing the regime to allow aid workers to stay up to 60 days in the delta.
"They can go to the delta but the junta decides how long they can stay," the official said.
The UN World Food Program meanwhile said it has a single international aid worker staying over night in the delta and coordinating its aid distribution, while others have not received clearance from the government to stay overnight.
"That will be the first significant deployment of international staff in the Delta," Paul Risley, spokesperson of WFP told a UN press conference on Wednesday in Bangkok.
The WFP said it has over 40 international staff members in Burma. Though they are allowed to go down into the delta, only one person so far has received permission to stay back.
"Access to the Delta for international staff does remain a challenge," Risley added.
Jagan Chapagain, deputy head of zone office of the International Federation of Red Cross in Malaysia said, "Primarily our international staff members are in Rangoon, while most of the relief works are being carried out by their national partners -- Myanmar Red Cross Society".
The IFRC, however, sends its international staff members to the delta to provide assistance to the national staff for emergency response and the water unit, but they have to come back as soon as their work is done.
"There is no free access for people to go around [in the delta]," said Chapagain.
"Not everybody in Rangoon can just go in to the delta, we need to get permission," Chapagain added.
However, the World Vision, a Christian NGO, extensively working in Burma said, there has been progress in terms of easing restrictions on travel into Burma and to the delta.
James East, the World Vision spokesperson in Bangkok, said there has been significant progress made on visa application to enter Burma as well as in terms of getting clearance from the concerned ministries to go into the delta.
"Earlier, it took about three to four weeks to get approval to go outside Rangoon but now it takes only a couple of days, its becoming much easier," said East.
Earlier international aid workers needed to get clearance from the Burmese Ministry of Defence as well as from the concerned ministry depending on the nature of the work. But this process has now been eased, he added.
The World Vision said it has over 50 national staff members along with dozens of volunteers working in the Irrawaddy delta. Its international staff are going in and out to assist them but are not permanently based in the delta.
(JEG's: Somethng fishy here... WV sees what the others cannot.. odd???)