UN plane lands, junta still delaying aid to survivors

Bangkok, May 8:

The first UN aid flight to Myanmar since the cyclone tragedy landed today, but other planes of supplies and disaster experts were again kept out by the country’s reclusive military rulers.

With an estimated one million people homeless and in dire need, aid groups were privately frustrated but publicly diplomatic about the secretive junta’s refusal to fling open their doors to the outside world’s offers of help.

“Our assumption now is that the humanitarian needs of one million people will be able to prevail over politics and bureaucracy,” said Anthony Banbury of the UN’s World Food Programme.

Two more of its planes were being loaded today, he said, while the agency had previously sent seven tonnes of high-energy biscuits on an aid flight from Thailand.

But he said the WFP had not yet won approval to fetch heavy equipment including forklifts, generators and boats in the aftermath of the storm.

There are severe shortages of food, clean water, shelter and medical supplies six days after the storm hit late Friday — and there has been little sign of the visas the secretive regime promised to give aid workers.

“You need people to coordinate where the equipment is going, there are complicated logistics involved,” said Shantha Bloemen, spokeswoman for UNICEF, the UN children’s fund. She said the agency was having to distribute the supplies it already had in Myanmar by road.

The UN’s emergency relief division said there had been a minor breakthrough today afternoon with four UN disaster experts being cleared to get in to the country. “So that’s good news,” said its regional spokesman, Richard Horsey. He said three of them had won clearance as they are Asian nationals.

A humanitarian worker, based in Bangkok, who asked not to be named told AFP agencies were now scouring their offices for other Asian aid workers. Horsey said that without immediate assistance, the death toll would climb. The US and France have both offered to send naval ships, currently on exercise in the region, but those offers were still unanswered today. The UN refugee agency said yesterday 22 tonnes of supplies were stuck at the border

with Thailand, waiting for a green light from Myanmar authorities.

Meanwhile, UNICEF launched an appeal today for $8.2 million to fund critical aid for women and children.

UN to chip in with $10 million:

Geneva: The United Nations said today it will give $10 million in immediate aid to cyclone-hit Myanmar and that its disaster experts have finally been granted visas to enter the country.

The UN will “immediately release a first tranche of at least $10 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund” to help relief efforts in the stricken country, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). — AFP