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UN food agency steps up aid to cyclone-stricken Myanmar

UN food agency steps up aid to cyclone-stricken Myanmar

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis in the aftermath of the disaster
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that its food aid has reached more than 27,000 people in the areas of the Irrawaddy delta hit hardest by Cyclone Nargis, which left a path of death and destruction after striking Myanmar last week.

“In an encouraging development, 28 tons of high-energy biscuits – which arrived in Yangon on Friday and are enough to feed 95,000 with first rations – were on Saturday handed to WFP,” the agency said on its website.

Today, the biscuits were collected and transported to be immediately distributed to the most impacted people.

Other crucial supplies such as temporary warehousing, offices and accommodation, along with generators, were flown in from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and given to WFP yesterday. They will be sent immediately to the Irrawaddy region as WFP seeks to establish field offices to handle a major food distribution operation.

An additional 10 tons of high-energy biscuits arrived in Yangon this weekend on two Thai Airways commercial planes.

Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sent the first Organization's first land convoy of emergency supplies – including tents and plastic sheeting for some 10,000 people – into Myanmar, crossing over from Thailand.

“This convoy marks a positive step in an aid effort so far marked by challenges and constraints," said Raymond Hall, the agency's Representative in Thailand. "We hope it opens up a possible corridor to allow more international aid to reach the cyclone victims."

He noted that what is being sent in by road supplements the supplies already procured locally in Yangon and 100 tons of other aid being airlifted from Dubai.

UNHCR is focusing on emergency shelter as part of joint UN efforts assist victims of the cyclone, which has washed away the homes of an estimated 1 million people.

The supplies that reached Myanmar overland yesterday could have been stuck in northern Thailand since customs posts on both sides of the border are closed on weekends. But UNHCR negotiated with authorities in both nations to exceptionally open the posts to allow aid to enter Myanmar.

"This operation could not have happened without the help of the Thai and Myanmar officials," said UNHCR's Alexander Novikau, who led the convoy movement.

On 9 May, the UN launched a $187 million appeal to help provide humanitarian relief to some 1.5 million people severely affected by Cyclone Nargis.

The call for funds was issued on behalf of 10 UN agencies and 9 non-governmental organizations by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who stressed that “the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe is enormous.”

Noting that the number of those severely affected in Myanmar is between 1.2 and 1.9 million, he emphasized that “the numbers of people in need may well increase further as we come to understand better the situation on the ground.”

The death toll is rising daily, Mr. Holmes said, adding that it “could be anywhere between 63,000 and 100,000, or possibly even higher.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his concerns over the situation in the South-East Asian nation on 9 May, urging authorities to allow aid and humanitarian workers into the country without any hindrance. “I appeal to them strongly to do all they can to facilitate this aid.”

He warned that inaction would be deadly. “If early action is not taken and relief measures put in place, the medium-term effect of this tragedy could be truly catastrophic,” Mr. Ban said, calling for an end to political differences to address the tremendous challenges ahead. “The sheer survival of the affected people is at stake.”