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Myanmar cyclone: UN, agencies rush to aid

May 06, 2008 10:34 IST

United Nations and private aid agencies went into high gear to provide humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands victims of a devastating cyclone in Myanmar as the military government there gave green signal to the world body to send emergency aid.

Images: Cyclone toll crosses 10,000

Myanmar's state media on Tuesday said that last weekend's cyclone Nargis killed some 10,000 people in just one town, raising fears that the country's overall death toll will rise significantly. Earlier, the officials yesterday predicted that the death toll could reach more than 10,000.

It was yet unclear how the aid would be sent and whether UN will also distribute assistance sent by Non Governmental Organisations in the country where large areas are without electricity, fuel, food and drinking water.

Assessment teams from some of the UN agencies are already on the ground determining the immediate and long term needs.
At the UN headquarters, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar had discussions with Myanmar's UN Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe on Monday on the issue of sending humanitarian supplies. They also discussed the issues of coordination and communications.

The government has said that more than 10,000 people were feared killed in the storm packing wind of more than 190 kilometre per hour and it rendered of thousands homeless. Even in the capital of Yangon, buildings were badly damaged.
It could take several days to assess the damage caused by the Nargis and to count the dead as several roads are impassable and repair would be a time consuming process. The aid could be delayed as the military government is wary of foreigners and every humanitarian group would need to get permission to enter the country.

Officials say they are not sure when the aid would start flowing in Myanmar and how it would be distributed.

A spokesman of the World Food Programme said in Bangkok that the government has indicated its willingness to accept international aid through UN agencies.

"I would say it was a careful green light," he said, adding the world body will begin transporting the assistance as quickly as possible.

The United States has offered an initial assistance of $250,000 and kept a team ready to assist the government but its spokesman said that Myanmar government does not seem to be inclined to accept it or allow its team in.

The American statement came even as the European nations appealed to Myanmar to allow western aid groups to help the victims.

The International Red Cross said Myanmar Red Cross Society is already in field assisting the victims.

The United Nations Children's Fund said it has dispatched five assessment teams to three of the affected areas and is positioning life saving supplies. UNICEF said it will work with partners and the government to provide access to clean water, safe sanitation and improved hygiene, and will seek to protect children and assist them in returning to school as soon as possible.

Immediate needs are likely to include water purification tablets, plastic sheeting, cooking sets, bed nets, emergency health kits and an emergency nutrition response. However, it said moving supplies is a major problem as the roads are blocked by fallen trees and flooded.

Secretary-General Ban said he is 'very much alarmed' by the news coming out of Myanmar's foreign ministry that casualties have risen to over 10,000. Speaking to reporters in New York, he said lack of communications has made it difficult to ascertain the extent of the casualties and damage.

Dharam Shourie in United Nations
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