United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed for donations to assist victims of Myanmar's deadly Cyclone Nargis, noting that the relief effort will last at least six months.
“There is good reason to hope that aid to the worst affected areas of Myanmar will increase significantly in the coming days. These needs must be funded, immediately,” Mr. Ban said in his address at the start of the international pledging conference held in Yangon to raise funds for the disaster.
On Friday, he announced after talks with Senior General Than Shwe that the country's leader had agreed to allow international aid workers, regardless of their nationality, into the hardest-hit areas.
“I am encouraged by my discussions with Myanmar's leadership in recent days. They have agreed on the need to act urgently,” the Secretary-General said at today's conference. “I hope?and believe?that any hesitation the Government of Myanmar may have had about allowing international humanitarian groups to operate freely in the affected areas is now a thing of the past.”
Adding that prompt and full implementation is crucial, he said that “the good news is that the Myanmar government seems to be moving fast on both the letter and spirit of our agreement.”
Cyclone Nargis has left up to 2.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and Mr. Ban said today that 130,000 people have either died or are still missing since the storm struck Myanmar on 2 May.
Over 50 nations attended today's conference, which was co-sponsored by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Compared to China, which is pursuing relief efforts after a massive earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale which has claimed over 60,000 lives, Myanmar “does not have resources or capacities to the same degree,” said Mr. Ban, who yesterday visited a town near the epicentre in China's south-west.
“Indeed, few nations do, in the face of catastrophes of this magnitude. That is why we are here in Yangon today.”
Rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction must occur in parallel with relief efforts, the Secretary-General, who toured impacted areas in the Irrawaddy delta last week, underscored to the conference's participants.
“Farmers and fisherman must be helped to resume their livelihoods,” he noted. “They need nets and boats, fertilizers, seeds and water pumps.”
Despite “generous” recent contributions, the Secretary-General called for bolstered support for the $201 million UN Flash Appeal which aims to assist the 1.5 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis for the next three months. So far, only 20 per cent of the needed funds have been contributed, while another 20 per cent has been pledged.
“The needs remain acute?from clean water and sanitation to shelter, medical supplies and food,” he said, voicing particular concern over the lack of safe drinking water.
Mr. Ban reminded attendees that Myanmar's rice planting seasons kicks off in several weeks, with millions of people depending on the next harvest at a time the world has been gripped by skyrocketing food prices.
He said that “a failure to deal with this problem today will immeasurably compound our problems tomorrow.”
A joint ASEAN-UN summary issued by the conference's chairs, Mr. Ban and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, noted that participants agreed unanimously on the “need to scale up urgently and very significantly the current relief efforts, to ensure that all those in desperate need are reached quickly and with adequate life-saving relief supplies, and that an effective flow of these supplies is maintained for as long as is necessary, through the establishment of the necessary logistical arrangements and an acceleration of the arrival and distribution of vital relief goods.”
Additionally, there was strong agreement among those at the event that enhanced efforts were essential to prevent further unnecessary deaths.
“This Conference was an important exercise towards building greater trust, confidence and cooperation between the Government of Myanmar and the international community,” the meeting's co-chairs said.
“Finally, the participants in the Conference are united in their determination to help the people of Myanmar and in particular those in the worst affected areas to overcome this dreadful tragedy and resume their normal lives as quickly as possible,” they added.”
Speaking reporters upon arriving in Bangkok from the Yangon meeting, Mr. Ban said that the people and the Government of Myanmar, together with the international community, have put together a relief programme under difficult conditions, “but much, much more needs to be done.”
He pointed out that some international aid workers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have already reached the Irrawaddy delta unhindered, and voiced hope that this signals a new partnership between Myanmar and the international community.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), less than one quarter of the estimate 2 million people in the 15 worst-affected townships in Myanmar have been reached.
OCHA also reported that a boat loaded with UN World Food Programme (WFP) rice and high energy biscuits has departed for Myanmar, while 26 UN relief aircrafts – from WFP, OCHA, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) – have been organized.