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Aid trickles in to cyclone-hit Myanmar

May 07, 2008 13:18 IST

International aid began to trickle in to some of the devastated cyclone-hit areas of Myanmar, even as the United Nations said people in need of humanitarian assistance could number hundreds of thousands.

The Irrawaddy delta, which was directly hit by Cyclone Nargis on Friday, remains cut off and it could be days, or even weeks, before aid reached the victims, UN said.

Reports from Myanmar said in Yangon, volunteers including Buddhist monks and the army were trying to clear the debris, but in the adjoining areas where most of the more than 22,000 people died and twice the number went missing, the survivors were on their own.

Satellite imagery showed that some 11,600 square miles of area was devastated by the storm, but officials explained that though it constituted five per cent of the total area of the country, it was home to almost one-quarter of the population.

UN officials said they were worried about the possibility of outbreak of water-borne diseases, if aid did not reach the survivors within a short period of time.

"Unfortunately, we cannot tell you how many people are in need of assistance, but it is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands," Rashid Khalikov, director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York, told media persons.

He said the Myanmar government had accepted international offers of aid and expressed hope it will ease visa regulations in order to speed up the delivery of vital relief supplies.

OCHA announced that it is prepared to release $5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to kick-start an emergency response.

A five-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team is now standing by in the region and is awaiting the required visas to travel to Myanmar to coordinate relief efforts together with the national authorities.

Myanmar authorities have declared the five regions Yangon, Ayeyarwwady, Bago, Mon and Kayin as disaster areas. The population of the declared disaster areas is estimated at 24 million, with an estimated 6 million in Yangon.

More than 3,000 people are reportedly missing in Ayeyarwady Division alone.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme began distributing food in cyclone-damaged areas of Yangon yesterday, UN said.

World Food Programme has more than 800 metric tonnes of food stocks available in its warehouses in Yangon, which will be delivered to the areas in need, it said.

The UN refugee agency, on its part, is readying its emergency shelter material stockpiles comprising of plastic sheeting and tents, in neighbouring Thailand for some 10,000 people for urgent dispatch to Yangon.

The supplies would be distributed through a Disaster Management Committee that has been constituted by the Myanmar government.

Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told media persons that the agency's office in Myanmar on Monday purchased $50,000 worth of urgently needed basic supplies in Yangon for distribution, including emergency tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and canned food.

Besides, UNICEF's Myanmar field staff has started delivering urgently-needed supplies to the Irrawaddy delta, and has provided medicines and first-aid kits to Laputta township, one of the most severely impacted areas.

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