Top UN official in Asia-Pacific joins call for urgent access to Myanmar

9 May 2008
Food aid being distributed to the affected population.

Echoing calls on the Myanmar authorities to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid in the wake of the deadly cyclone which has left some 1.5 million people in need, the top United Nations official in the region today urged the Government to act quickly to avert an even worse tragedy.

“The situation is getting critical and there is only a small window of opportunity if we are to avert the spread of diseases that could multiply the already tragic number of casualties,” said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

The UN humanitarian chief has warned that the situation in Myanmar following last weekend’s cyclone has become “increasingly desperate.” The storm left a path of death and destruction across the Irrawaddy delta region and the country’s largest city, Yangon.

Both Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have voiced their disappointment at the limited progress made in gaining access to Myanmar, where some 1.5 million people are believed to be severely affected by the disaster.

Ms. Heyzer “urged again the Myanmar authorities to issue visas expeditiously, and if possible, exempt all visa requirements for all UN aid workers, so that aid can reach the people as quickly as possible.”

She also said she plans to personally go as soon as possible to Myanmar to show her solidarity with the people of the South-East Asian nation and to meet with the Government to discuss access and humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, UN agencies are continuing to mobilize efforts to assist those in need. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday airlifted enough high energy biscuits for 21,000 people, most of which has been delivered over the last 24 hours to the hardest-hit areas. Today, two WFP flights arrived with enough high-energy biscuits to feed 95,000 people.

The agency has decided to send in two relief flights as planned tomorrow, while discussions continue with the Government of Myanmar on the distribution of the food that was flown in today, and that has not been released to WFP, spokesperson Bettina Luescher told reporters in New York.

“We’re trying everything to resolve the situation at the airport but we are very encouraged that we were able to distribute food,” she stated.

In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is hoping to start airlifting 57 tonnes of emergency shelter – for some 22,000 people – from its stockpile in Dubai.

The first load of 32 tonnes of aid cargo – mainly urgently needed shelter materials such as plastic sheeting, blankets and kitchen sets – is set to be transported on a WFP aircraft, with another 25 tonnes of supplies expected to be airlifted over the weekend on a joint charter flight.

The agency is also emptying its stockpile in north-western Thailand to deliver some 5,000 plastic sheets and some 200 tents to people in desperate need of shelter across the border.

“We are seeking all possible means to send urgent shelter materials and household supplies to victims of the recent cyclone in Myanmar,” UNHCR’s Jennifer Pagonis told reporters.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.