Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the top United Nations humanitarian official today urged Myanmar authorities to facilitate the delivery of aid in the wake of the deadly cyclone that wreaked death and destruction in the country several days ago.
The Government in Myanmar has confirmed that over 22,000 people have died, and more than 41,000 people are missing, following Cyclone Nargis which struck the South-East Asian nation from 2 to 3 May. Initial estimates suggest that up to 1 million people are currently homeless, and many more require assistance.
“The Secretary-General believes that this is a critical moment for the people of Myanmar, and emphasizes the importance of providing as much assistance as possible in the vital first few days following the cyclone’s impact,” according to a statement issued today by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.
He welcomed today’s news that some UN aid officials will be allowed into Myanmar tomorrow, which will assist assessment and prioritization efforts.
“Given the magnitude of this disaster, the Secretary-General urges the Government of Myanmar to respond to the outpouring of international support and solidarity by facilitating the arrival of aid workers, and the clearance of relief supplies in every way possible,” the statement added. “This can significantly aid the Government in responding to this tragedy.”
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes echoed Mr. Ban’s call, stressing that “any delays are going to be potentially critical” in the face of such a disaster.
Members of a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team will be flying to Myanmar tomorrow to coordinate relief efforts together with the national authorities.
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated that while assistance has started to arrive, the effort is clearly not adequate given the enormity of the situation. “We are faced here with a major catastrophe,” he told journalists at UN Headquarters.
The UN has been “intensely” discussing access for aid workers, visas and the easing of custom regulations with the Government since the tragedy struck. “The cooperation is reasonable and I think heading in the right direction,” Mr. Holmes noted.
The Under-Secretary-General added that the UN will allocate at least $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the aid effort. In addition, over two dozen countries have indicated their willingness to contribute to relief efforts, in the amount of $30 million. The UN is working with the Government to prepare a flash appeal to donors to be launched on Friday.
Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall in the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) delta region and then moved across the country’s largest city, Yangon, caused widespread destruction, including destroying homes, tearing down trees and power lines and damaging communications.
Myanmar authorities have declared five regions – Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Bago, Mon and Kayin – disaster areas. The combined total population of the disaster areas is around 24 million.
Mr. Holmes said the process of aid beginning to arrive has started. Humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are distributing food, water purification tables, plastic sheeting and health kits – just some of the most urgent needs.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) today sent four aircraft loaded with critically needed food aid, including 45 metric tons of high energy biscuits, and other relief items.
“Time is of the essence and we are already reaching storm victims with food. We are mobilising all possible resources to save lives given the massive disruption in food, water, and shelter caused by this storm,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, speaking from Washington D.C.
The WFP-chartered aircraft are expected to arrive at Yangon airport early Thursday morning – the first UN flights to arrive in the city.