As he prepared to leave for Myanmar today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will do all he can to reinforce the immediate relief effort in the cyclone-devastated country and will also draw attention to the need for long-term reconstruction and development.
“I will do my utmost for the people of Myanmar,” Mr. Ban told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York. “I want to see the conditions under which relief teams are working and I intend to do all I can to reinforce their efforts in coordination with the Myanmar’s authorities and international aid agencies.”
Mr. Ban will arrive in Yangon, Myanmar, early Thursday morning and is set to tour the Irrawaddy delta area – the part of the country most affected by the cyclone. He said the UN had a functioning relief programme in place but cautioned that it is a “critical moment” for the country and said that so far aid workers had been able to reach only about 25 per cent of people in need in Myanmar. According to UN estimates, some 2.4 million people have been severely affected by Cyclone Nargis.
On Sunday, the Secretary-General will participate in a pledging conference co-sponsored by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to raise funds for the aid effort from international donors.
Mr. Ban said he was travelling to Myanmar to “demonstrate my sympathy to the people and Government at this time of crisis and challenge, and to see for myself the situation on the ground.” He described the disaster caused by the cyclone as “unprecedented in Myanmar’s history.”
The Secretary-General said he would coordinate closely with ASEAN and Myanmarese officials and said he was confident that relief efforts could be scaled up quickly. He added that the UN had received Government permission to operate nine World Food Programme (WFP) helicopters which would allow aid workers to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible.
Mr. Ban also stressed that the international community had to give thought to Myanmar’s long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation. He said that Cyclone Nargis had “devastated Myanmar’s agricultural heartland” and that it may already be too late for farmers to plant the next harvest. “In this sense the economic effects of the natural disaster that has struck Myanmar could be more severe and longer lasting than the 2004 tsunami,” he added.
Major relief efforts continue in Myanmar from the WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), who among them have delivered food, medical supplies, shelter materials and water purification equipment, and have been monitoring for the outbreak of disease.