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UN humanitarian chief to arrive in Myanmar on Sunday

UN humanitarian chief to arrive in Myanmar on Sunday

The top United Nations relief official plans to talk directly with the authorities in Myanmar in an effort to accelerate the relief effort for victims of Cyclone Nargis which may have left more than 100,000 people dead and severely affected up to 2.5 million others.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes will fly into Myanmar on Sunday. UN aid officials say there has been some slow progress in getting relief supplies and humanitarian workers into the most affected areas across the Irrawaddy delta in the south of Myanmar, and that the Government has shown some signs of flexibility, but more is needed.

Around 300,000 people are estimated to have received rudimentary aid through the UN and other aid agencies, representing about 20 per cent of people who have been affected. An emergency team from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also in the country, working together with the UN. At the same time, heavy rains continue to batter people who have been made homeless, complicating relief efforts.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the impact of the cyclone extended well inland, destroying rice fields and food stores. Spokesperson Diderik De Vleeschauwer said that families have also lost their rice seeds for the upcoming planting season.

“Time is running out,” he said. “If rice seed is not received within the next 40 to 50 days planting will not happen in time for harvesting this year.” As a result, he said that Myanmar could turn from a rice exporter to a rice importing country. He added that the Government estimated that $243 million would be needed to restore agricultural output.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about 1 million children have been affected by the cyclone, with many sleeping in the streets, or in schools and monasteries, often without bedding, and frequently without protection from the rain.

“The destruction of homes, schools, water and sanitation systems is an unrelenting threat to the child survivors,” said UNICEF spokesperson Shantha Bloemen.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that about 50 per cent of rural township health centres and about 20 per cent of hospitals in the Irrawaddy delta area have been damaged by the cyclone. Many have lost their roofs, although some are still functioning.

WHO has deployed seven health surveillance teams in the region using local staff. Spokesperson Fadela Chaib said there had been no major outbreak of disease so far, and that press reports of cholera cases were inaccurate.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has dispatched 1,200 tons of rice, high-energy biscuits and cereals to the areas worst affected by the cyclone – enough to feed around 200,000 people.

Meanwhile, the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has deployed 100 satellite terminals to Myanmar to help restore vital communication links in the country. The terminals are easily transported by road and air, and are designed to be used by Government officials, aid workers and victims to help coordinate relief efforts.