Tuesday, 10 June 2008

UN helicopters ferrying more aid to parts of Myanmar delta largely cut off since cyclone

YANGON, Myanmar (IHT): U.N. helicopters loaded with relief supplies have reached areas of Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta that were cut off from regular aid since a devastating cyclone five weeks ago, an official said.

Four of the five aircraft that arrived over the weekend shuttled emergency supplies like rice and water purification systems to area villages, said Paul Risley, a U.N. World Food Program spokesman.

More sites were expected to be reached Tuesday after flights reached seven parts of the delta Monday, he said.

U.N. officials and aid groups have criticized Myanmar's military regime for restricting access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors of the May 2-3 cyclone.

Aid groups say foreign relief workers still face hindrances in reaching cyclone victims, especially outside Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.
Until now the U.N. had only one helicopter operating in Myanmar, and it flew six trips last week, Risley said.

Most supplies were being delivered by boats that took hours to travel short distances in the delta's network of waterways.

Risley said helicopters reached four remote villages Monday morning.

"These are areas that clearly have not received regular supplies of food or other relief assistance," he said.

Risley said four more WFP-chartered helicopters in neighboring Thailand were expected to fly to Myanmar this week, bringing to 10 the U.N. agency's total number of choppers in the country.

But the relief effort still faces myriad problems including a severe shortage of housing materials. Hundreds of thousands could be exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season begins, aid agencies say.

"There's clearly a need for tarps and other roofing material, for anything that can help them rebuild their houses," Risley said, noting that rains have left many delta villages knee-deep in mud.

The U.N. estimates that Cyclone Nargis affected 2.4 million people warns that more than 1 million of them, mostly in the delta, still need help. The cyclone killed more than 78,000 people in impoverished Myanmar.

Myanmar's military junta has been criticized abroad for allegedly evicting cyclone survivors from refugee camps, supposedly without adequate provisions. The government has issued angry denials in state-run media that describe the accusations as lies meant to undermine the country's stability.

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