Thursday, May 22, 2008

UN chief strives for reinforcing cyclone relief efforts for Myanmar

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd L) arrives at Yangon Airport May 22, 2008.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) talks with Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win after arriving at Yangon
YANGON, May 22 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived at Yangon Thursday morning to reinforce Myanmar's post-storm relief efforts after some parts of the country were devastated by cyclone Nargis early this month.

Ban, who was greeted at the Yangon International Airport by Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win, proceeded first to the Myanmar Foreign Ministry and signed book of condolence for thousands of Myanmar victims killed in the cyclone.
After visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda, Ban will meet Myanmar Prime Minister General Thein Sein and Minister of National Planning and Economic and Development U Soe Tha, and will then be taken to cyclone-hard-hit areas in southwestern Ayeyawaddy division's delta region and Yangon division under government arrangement, according to official sources.

During his two-day visit, Ban is also expected to meet Myanmar top leadership in Nay Pyi Taw Friday and discuss channels for scaling up quick relief efforts and prompt distribution of the aidsupplies especially to reinforce partnership between Myanmar and the international community, including ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and key neighboring countries.

Bringing his sympathy to and support for the Myanmar government and people and claiming that it is a critical moment for Myanmar, Ban said before his departure for Myanmar that he will do his utmost to save the lives of Myanmar people and source more "non-politicized" assistance.

He stressed his and UN role "to work closely with ASEAN and the Myanmar government to ensure that all these efforts are well coordinated and as effective as they can be under these difficult circumstances."

In response to his call to quickly allow more international relief teams in to provide direct aid in a critical moment, Ban also said that Myanmar has allowed the U.N. to operate nine WFP (World Food Program) helicopters to ferry relief supplies to cyclone victims stranded in largely inaccessible disaster-hit areas.

Ban is scheduled to leave Myanmar on Friday evening for Bangkokwhere he will meet Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundarvej and ForeignMinister Noppadon Saturday and be back to Yangon on Sunday to join the International Pledging Conference co-organized by the U.N. and the ASEAN.

In his efforts days ahead to pave way for Ban's arrival, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who is also emergency relief coordinator, had visited Myanmar and toured some three cyclone-hit areas of Laputta, Bogalay and Wakemain the Ayeyawaddy delta region.

Holmes said Myanmar needs much more international aid for relief after disaster and most of the survivors, who face with food and shelter needs and healthcare, are still not kept in relief camps although there has been a large number of them already accommodated.

He pointed out that a lot of aid supplies are still badly needed, especially food and shelter materials, for such an enormous number of people, estimating that it takes three to six months for rehabilitation.

He also believed that between 1.6 million and 2.5 million people were severely affected by the cyclone and doubted the number of the homeless.

Meanwhile, agreed by Myanmar, an ASEAN-led coordinating mechanism, chaired by Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Surin Pitsuwan, has been established in accordance with the decisions made on Monday's Special Meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Singapore.

The move is to facilitate the effective distribution and utilization of international assistance for Myanmar cyclone victims and a pledging conference involving the U.N. is scheduled for Sunday, May 25 in Yangon to raise fund for cyclone-affected victims.

As a pre-move, Surin visited Yangon two days ahead of Ban's arrival to take ASEAN's lead in coordinating and liaising with the UN system and international community in assisting Myanmar to recover from cyclone Nargis.

Following initial lifting of some restrictions on accepting foreign aid workers, five foreign medics respectively from neighboring Thailand, India, Laos, China and Bangladesh have been allowed in to render direct medical aid to Myanmar cyclone victims.

In last weekend, resident representatives of UN agencies, along with those of ASEAN Secretariat and foreign diplomats traveled under government arrangement to relief camps in Dedaye, Kungyangon, Pyapon, Bogalay Maubin, Mawlamyinegyun and Laputta in Yangon and Ayeyawaddy divisions.

Days after the cyclone hit Myanmar, international humanitarian aid has been pouring the country with aircraft carrying various relief materials from different countries and organizations landing at the airport one after another for Myanmar's homeless cyclone survivors.

Up to now, 27 countries or region, which sent in the aid supplies, include Thailand, China, the United States, Singapore, India, Russia, Italy, Bangladesh, Japan, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Ukraine, Greece, Pakistan, South Korea, Sweden and Australia.

International organizations, which provided Myanmar similar relief goods, comprise World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Chinese Red Cross and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) among others.

Deadly tropical cyclone Nargis, which occurred over the Bay of Bengal, hit five divisions and states -- Ayeyawaddy, Yangon, Bago, Mon and Kayin -- on May 2 and 3, of which Ayeyawaddy and Yangon inflicted the heaviest casualties and massive infrastructural damage including religious buildings, schools, hospitals, vessels, animals, crops cultivation, forest and ration.

Hard-hit coastal towns in the southwestern Ayeyawaddy division include Haing Gyi Island, Laputta, Mawlamyinegyun, Bogalay, Phyarpon, Kyaiklat, Ngaputaw, and Dedaye, while worst-hit areas in Yangon division include Kungyangon, Thanlyin, Kyauktan, Twantay, Kawmu and the Yangon city.

According to an updated official death toll, as many as 77,738 people have been killed with 55,917 still missing, totaling 133,655 in the disaster. The number of the injured went up to 19,359.

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