United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underscored the importance of effective aid delivery to victims of Myanmar's deadly Cyclone Nargis, noting that efforts to assist the vulnerable are still in the relief phase.
“The needy and the vulnerable depend on the delivery of emergency assistance,” Mr. Ban said at the opening of the Don Mueang Air Hub in Bangkok. “Therefore, the channeling of aid into Myanmar should be as efficient and logistically sound as possible.”
He said that the facility will act as a “critical staging area” for the relief effort, allowing larger planes to land and more aid supplies to be flown in from around the world.
“It will save lives,” the Secretary-General said at the event, which was also attended by Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pisuwan.
Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on 2 May, has left up to 2.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and the UN estimates that more than 100,000 people may have been killed.
In his remarks today, Mr. Ban thanked the Governments of Australia, Canada and Thailand for their support.
The arrangement regarding the new air hub “underscored the collaborative spirit between key ASEAN member states, the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations,” he said.
Yesterday, following talks with Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe, the Secretary-General announced that the country's leader had agreed to allow international relief workers – regardless of their nationality – into the worst-hit areas.
“He has taken quite a flexible position on an issue that, until now, has been an obstacle to organizing coordinated and fully effective international aid and assistance operations,” Mr. Ban said following what he characterized as a “good meeting” with the Senior General held in the South-East Asian nation's new capital Naypyidaw. “He has also agreed that [the] visa issue will be speeded up.”
Mr. Ban, who toured some of the worst affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta and spoke with families who had been forced to leave their homes, said the leader had agreed that the main airport at Yangon, Myanmar's most populous city, could be used as a logistics hub for international aid.
“I hope all these agreements can produce results quickly. Implementation will be the key. Finally, we have agreed on the kind of effective coordination and consulting mechanisms we need,” he said.
The Secretary-General, who today also visited the region devastated by the recent Chinese earthquake, will return to Yangon tomorrow for a pledging conference, which is co-sponsored by the UN and ASEAN, to raise funds for the Myanmar disaster.
Some 50 countries have signed up to attend the gathering – hosted by the Government of Myanmar – also bringing together UN agencies, the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations NGOs).
“This meeting intends to encourage cooperation in providing assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis and to show that the international community is united in helping the people of Myanmar,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.
Mr. Ban, along with Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein and George Yeo, Foreign Minister of Singapore which currently chairs ASEAN, will address the conference's opening.
The Government of Myanmar will brief participants on the humanitarian situation and response to the cyclone.
Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will present a joint ASEAN-UN briefing on the international response, and Mr. Pitsuwan will discuss an ASEAN-led tripartite coordinating mechanism involving the UN and Myanmar.