Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Myanmar Needs `Sustained' Aid for Cyclone Survivors, UN says

By Paul Tighe

June 4 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar needs ``sustained'' aid for survivors of last month's cyclone as relief supplies have reached less than half of the more than 2 million people in need, the United Nations said.

About 1.3 million people in the southern Irrawaddy River Delta, the main rice-producing area, have received assistance a month after Tropical Cyclone Nargis struck, Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in Geneva yesterday.

``There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance,'' Byrs said, according to a statement from the UN. About 49 percent of people in the delta have been reached, she said.

International agencies say Myanmar's ruling junta is still delaying full access to the region by imposing travel controls for aid workers. The military, which has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962, says the delta is receiving supplies ``without delay,'' Agence France-Presse reported.

The cyclone killed about 77,000 people and left 55,000 missing, according to the UN. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people have been relocated, many in the delta, it said.

Supplies from abroad are ``flowing continuously to the country by planes,'' AFP cited the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper as saying yesterday. ``The relief supplies team accepted the items at the airport and transported them to the storm-hit regions without delay.''

Food Distribution

The World Food Programme says 1.5 million people need food assistance. With the help of other agencies, it aims to distribute about 400 metric tons of food a day, the UN's IRIN news agency cited Paul Risley, a WFP spokesman, as saying yesterday in Bangkok.

A fleet of more than 30 boats is carrying supplies through the delta's waterways to reach villages, he added.

Aid workers said there is evidence that the government is closing some temporary settlements and sending survivors back to their places of origin prematurely, IRIN reported. Authorities are closing shelters in the delta town of Labutta, it cited Frank Smithuis of Doctors Without Borders as saying yesterday.

Premature Returns

``We do not endorse premature returns to areas where there are no services,'' IRIN cited Terje Skavdal, head of the Asia and Pacific office for the UN humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, as saying May 30. ``People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to be created before they can return to their places of origin. This point has been made very clearly to the authorities.''

Teams are still finding communities where every building has been destroyed and survivors are living without any outside assistance, the WFP said on its Web site yesterday. Food, drinking water and shelter remain immediate necessities.

The delta produces most of Myanmar's rice, fish and pork, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Prices of goods have at least doubled since the cyclone struck. Myanmar was already battling to feed its 48 million people, with one- third of children malnourished and one-fifth born underweight.

The military went ahead with a referendum on a new constitution after the cyclone hit, saying more than 92 percent of voters approved the charter that provides for elections in 2010.

The vote ``washed away'' the victory claimed by the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi in a 1990 ballot, state media said yesterday, according to AFP.

The military never recognized the result of the election and has kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at

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