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Ban Ki-moon visits cyclone-devastated areas in Myanmar

Ban Ki-moon visits cyclone-devastated areas in Myanmar

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) comforting children at a tent camp housing survivors of Cyclone Nargis
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has seen first-hand today the devastation in Myanmar left by Cyclone Nargis, which has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted the lives of 2.4 million others since it struck the country earlier this month.

Flying by military helicopter over rice fields submerged under brown sludge, Mr. Ban visited the makeshift Kyondah relief camp, 75 kilometres south of Yangon in the hard-hit Ayeyarwady delta, where many women and small children who have lost their homes and family members have taken shelter.

“I am so sorry, but don’t lose your hope,” Mr. Ban told a camp resident. “The United Nations is here to help you. The whole world is trying to help Myanmar.”

During his four-hour tour of the area, he also stopped at a distribution centre stocked with dozens of bags of rice and cartons of drinking water.

Prior to visiting the delta, the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Thein Sein, stressing that because the crisis has exceeded Myanmar’s national capacity, foreign aid experts need to be sent in urgently.

Mr. Ban said that he felt at least six months of food and medical assistance was necessary, in parallel with recovery work.

He called on the Prime Minister to allow international humanitarian experts in to coordinate the relief effort, which has left many local staff exhausted and overstretched.

Starting his day in Yangon by signing a book of condolences to the cyclone’s victims, the Secretary-General also stopped at the 2,000-year-old Shwedagon pagoda, Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist shrine, where he walked barefoot in a show of respect for the Buddhist tradition.

“The United Nations and the whole international community stand ready to help you overcome this tragedy,” he said at the shrine, where he offered flowers to the statue of Buddha. “That is why I am here. The main purpose of my coming to Myanmar is to demonstrate my solidarity and bring a message of hope.”

Tomorrow, Mr. Ban is scheduled to meet with Myanmar’s leader Senior General Than Shwe in the new capital of Naypyidaw, some 350 kilometres north of Yangon. He also expects to meet with aid workers.

He will leave the country for Bangkok tomorrow evening, heading back to Yangon on Sunday to preside over the pledging conference for Myanmar, which is co-sponsored by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Preparations for that conference are under way, and tomorrow is the deadline for participants to register. So far, 31 countries, nine UN agencies and the ASEAN Secretariat have signalled their intention to attend.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reported that five international medical teams – from Thailand, India, China, Bangladesh and Laos – are providing assistance to those in need and are support national health-care staff in the cyclone-hit areas of Ayeyarwady and Yangon Divisions. An additional team from Singapore is expected to arrive today.

Since Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, the UN World Food Programme has dispatched over 2,100 tons of food to affected areas, with nearly two-thirds of the supplies having been distributed to 348,000 people.

A 4,000-square-metre warehouse in Yangon is operational, along with a fleet of 30 trucks, four barges, four barge pushers and two boats. Additionally, in five local hubs, six Mobile Storage Units have been or are in the process of being constructed.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has continued with its vaccination campaign in the region, with survivors in camps living in unsanitary conditions.

“My greatest single fear is a very large measles outbreak, especially in some of these camps,” said Peter Salama, the agency’s Chief of Health.

UNICEF has vaccinated roughly 1,000 children between the ages of nine months and five years against measles in Laputta Township in the Ayeyarwady delta. The children’s mothers have received tetanus shots.

Meanwhile, following a visit to Myanmar from 15 to 18 May, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has underscored the need to urgently enhance coordinated storm-surge advisory systems in the Gulf of Bengal and other tropical-storm prone regions of the world.

In a joint press conference with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) in Geneva yesterday, the WMO said that these systems should be supplemented by responses which protect people at the grassroots level.