Myanmar lets neighbours chip in

Yangon, May 20:

Myanmar began three days of mourning for cyclone victims today, after its ruling junta appeared to relent to foreign pressure to allow more outside help for its storm survivors in the face of global outrage.

The regime said yesterday it would allow its Asian neighbours to oversee the distribution of foreign relief to survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

It also approved a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and prepared to host a meeting of aid donors, while claiming that losses from the May 2-3 disaster exceeded $10 billion.

Yesterday’s announcement came as the official death toll for the May 2-3 storm stood at about 78,000, with another 56,000 people still missing.

Heavy rain fell on the area again yesterday, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, noting that such weather can have the benefit of providing clean water for those able to catch the downpour with plastic sheeting.

“However, the rain for many others simply adds to the misery as they look forward to their 18th night in often wretched conditions,” said the IFRC in a situation report. “In addition, access to already relatively inaccessible locations is set to remain very difficult.”

The IFRC remained concerned about the distribution of relief supplies, saying “Reports indicate that in most of the bigger affected townships, basic relief and food is available but much less so in the more remote areas.”

It said there seemed to be problems even at some of the temporary relief camps set up by the government: “While significant relief is getting through, there are indications of mounting frustration among many displaced communities.”

In Singapore, an emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to set up an ASEAN-led task force for redistributing foreign aid.

“This mechanism will facilitate the effective distribution and utilisation of assistance from the international community, including the expeditious and effective deployment of relief workers, especially health and medical personnel,” said Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo.

Junta agreed to open its doors to medical teams from ASEAN nations, Yeo said. ASEAN member Thailand had sent teams in, as did non-ASEAN neighbours India and China.