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UN envoy to step up pressure on junta

Latest update : 2008-05-16

The United Nations dispatched its humanitarian chief John Holmes to persuade the Burmese junta to allow foreign aid into the country. An estimated 2.5 million people have been affected by Cyclone Nargis. (Story: C.Payen)

The United Nations estimated those affected by the Myanmar cyclone at up to 2.5 million on Wednesday and called an urgent meeting of big donors and Asian states as the Myanmar junta continued to limit foreign aid.


The European Union's top aid official said the military government's restrictions were increasing the risk of starvation and disease.


U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters that there were now between 1.6-2.5 million people who were "severely affected" by Cyclone Nargis and urgently needed aid, up from a previous estimate of at least 1.5 million people.


Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said after a two-hour meeting in Yangon, where he urged his counterpart Thein Sein to ease visa rules for relief workers, that he was told Myanmar could "tackle the problem by themselves".


In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has expressed frustration over the response by Myanmar's reclusive leaders, called a meeting of key donor states and Asian powers later on Wednesday to discuss "what kind of concrete measures we can take from now on".


"Even though the Myanmarese government has shown some sense of flexibility, at this time it is far, far too short," he said. "The magnitude of this situation requires much more mobilization of resources and aid workers."


Junta still stonewalling on aid distribution


The United Nations is concerned that emergency aid to cyclone victims in Myanmar may be being diverted, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.
"That concern exists," Montas said when asked if the organization feared that food and aid from the international community might be going to non-cyclone victims.
"We don't have any independent report of specific portions of the aid going to other sectors besides the victims," she added at a press briefing here Tuesday.
"It is a fact that a very small percentage of the victims so far have received the aid, but from yesterday until today, from what I read, you saw that the situation has improved in terms of the delivery of aid."
UN officials including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have expressed fears   that Myanmar faces a "second catastrophe" after its devastating cyclone unless the junta immediately allows massive air and sea deliveries of aid.
"We are at a critical point. Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today's current crisis," Ban said Monday.
"I therefore call in the most strenuous terms on the government of Myanmar to put its people's lives first. It must do all it can to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious."
According to UN estimates, up to two million people are still critically in need of clean water, food rations, emergency medical care and shelter, more than a week after Cyclone Nargis swept away entire villages leaving at least 62,000 people dead or missing.
The WFP has so far only managed to provide food to over 70,000 people in the affected areas.
Aid agencies have been frustrated by the ruling junta's reluctance to allow emergency workers and supplies into the country.
The United Nations said Wednesday that it had been able to set up a logistics hub in Myanmar to coordinate aid efforts, with other centers to be established in the coming days.

Date created : 2008-05-15