Saturday, 16 August 2008

UN Claims only $1.5 Million Lost in Cyclone Relief Effort

The Irrawaddy News

The United Nations estimated that it has lost only US $1.56 million—not $10 million, as earlier cited—in relief funds for Burmese cyclone survivors due to foreign exchange rules imposed by the country’s military regime.

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq disclosed the figure in a statement released on Thursday. He said that the amount represented 4.5 percent of local expenditure, or 1 percent of total contributions to the relief effort.

He noted that an earlier estimate of $10 million, cited by John Holmes, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, following a visit to Burma in late July, was based on a very rough, preliminary calculation.

The UN spokesperson also said that the new figure was the maximum amount that could have been lost.

Following his visit to Burma in July, Holmes acknowledged that the loss of aid funds through the government’s exchange rate mechanism was “a very serious problem.”

Daniel Baker, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Burma, also said that the discrepancy was a source of double concern.

“We are not getting the full value of dollars donated for emergency relief, and donors are extremely worried and keen to see that this issue is resolved,” said Baker in a joint statement by the UN, Burmese government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Meanwhile, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) announced on Thursday that the Canadian government has contributed an additional $11 million to help victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma on May 2-3, affecting an estimated 2.4 million people.

CIDA also pledged to provide more than $30 million in aid for victims of a massive earthquake that struck China’s Sichuan Province in May.

Conrad Sauve, secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross, which received $2 million of Ottawa’s aid for Burma, said that the money will be used to help affected communities to rebuild houses, schools and clinics, as well as to support community-based health initiatives and provide economic support for those who have lost their livelihoods.

The Canadian government has so far contributed a total of $25 million to the Burmese relief effort. The latest contribution was in response to a pledge to match the value of private donations by Canadians.

“We are very pleased with Canada’s quick response to the cyclone victims in Burma,” said Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma.

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