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Secretary-General sees ‘new spirit of cooperation’ in Myanmar

Secretary-General sees ‘new spirit of cooperation’ in Myanmar

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that he is “much encouraged” by his discussions with Myanmar’s authorities in recent days, citing increased access for international aid workers to the Ayeyarwady delta area and an agreement to open up land, sea and air routes for relief supplies.

“I hope and I believe that this marks a new spirit of cooperation and partnership between Myanmar and the international community as a whole,” he told reporters in New York. “Prompt and full implementation will be the key. I will be fully, continuously and personally engaged.”

The Secretary-General has just returned from a trip to both Myanmar, in the wake of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis, and to China, which is dealing with the aftermath of a massive earthquake. Mr. Ban said he had witnessed “with sadness two terrible tragedies.”

Stressing that almost two million lives were “still at stake” following Cyclone Nargis, Mr. Ban said that Canada has agreed to transport helicopters to Myanmar to support the aid effort, but he added that “much, much more needs to be done.”

Mr. Ban noted that “few countries possess the capacity and the resources to cope on their own with disasters of this magnitude,” and said that was why the UN had co-sponsored an international pledging conference in the country on Sunday with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Meanwhile, the top humanitarian official for the United Nations said today that the world body has raised 60 per cent of the funding it has appealed for, with a total of $233 million either having been contributed or pledged to the overall relief effort following Cyclone Nargis.

Characterizing Sunday’s international pledging conference held in Yangon as a “success,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York that “there was a strong sense of unity and purpose and a clear determination to scale up the relief effort – to reach all of those in need.”

The UN estimates that aid has reached about one million people, not including the Government’s own emergency response. Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, cautioned that “a lot of people have received either nothing or not enough. That’s why we need to step up the aid effort.”

The Under-Secretary-General also said that people who had fled their homes to either official or informal settlements should only return home voluntarily “so that basic services are in place for them. They should not be pushed back before that.”

Speaking to reporters today in Geneva, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Elizabeth Byrs said that between 10 and 15 international flights are coming in every day to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and that air-bridge flights from the logistics hub at Bangkok's Don Muang Airport to Yangon, are now fully operational. In total, the UN says that 169 international relief flights have arrived so far in Myanmar.

Ms. Brys said that OCHA hoped that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) would be able to start operating 10 helicopters in Myanmar as soon as possible, after the Government gave the go-ahead to their deployment. So far, WFP and its partners have delivered over 3,000 tons of food aid reaching some 460,000 people.

Meanwhile, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) noted that the highest priority now for affected populations is access to water, sanitation and basic healthcare. The agency has mobilized a specialized team to focus on malaria prevention and control.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is completing an assessment of the needs of children within the country and has been providing health, education and water and sanitation supplies as well as technical assistance.