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Shortage of shelter latest woes to hit cyclone survivors in Myanmar

Shortage of shelter latest woes to hit cyclone survivors in Myanmar

A severe shortage of housing has left hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in Myanmar exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season begins, aid agencies said Saturday.
The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned there was an "urgent need" for tarpaulins to provide the estimated 1.5 million homeless survivors with temporary shelter. Otherwise, they warned, the threats of hunger and disease could intensify.
"Exposure to the elements five weeks after a disaster of this magnitude has to be a major concern," said John Sparrow, a spokesman for the IFRC. "People are in a weakened condition. They are sick; they are hungry. Without shelter, their whole situation is seriously exacerbated."
The U.N. estimates a total of 2.4 million people were affected when Cyclone Nargis hit May 2-3, and warns that more than 1 million of those still need help, mostly in the hard-to-reach Irrawaddy delta.
U.N. officials and aid groups have criticized the regime for hindering access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors.
The top U.N. humanitarian official said in New York there are now "relatively few people" who have not received any sort of help, but "this aid effort needs to be stepped up further," he said.
"I think people are getting to all the main places, although it's not always as easy as it should be," John Holmes said. "There's no evidence of starvation at the moment, although, as I say, many people are still in significant need of aid."
The U.N. has said access could greatly improved if the country's military junta would accept American offers of support which include the use of 22 military helicopters to ferry aid to remote locations.
The USS Essex group, which includes four ships, 5,000 U.S. military personnel and the helicopters, abandoned plans Thursday to deliver aid to the delta after repeated efforts to broker a compromise with the junta failed.
The U.S. military, however, said it is keeping 22 helicopters on standby in case Myanmar's ruling junta reverses its rejection of such help for cyclone victims, saying the aircraft could reach survivors within three days.
With only seven Myanmar government helicopters reportedly flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce and efforts to import vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.
"Of the 1 million or 1.5 million people in need of relief support, we think that between 450,000 to 750,000 are in emergency need," said Lt. Gen. John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the U.S. relief operation for Myanmar.
They could be reached "over the course of a three-day period" by American helicopters and landing craft, he said in telephone interview from a temporary U.S. staging area at Utapao, Thailand.
Goodman said the junta was "still considering" the offer, which would include allowing Myanmar officials aboard all U.S. helicopters to monitor their routes and to unload relief supplies.
The country's military leaders are particularly sensitive to allowing U.S. helicopters into the delta, given the fact that Washington has been a leading critic of the junta for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand power to a democratically elected government.
Early on in the disaster, the junta suggested the American offer was part of a plan to invade the country and steal its oil reserves.
The government's xenophobia has been on display over the past two days in the state-run media.
Reports in the New Light of Myanmar on Friday lashed out at its own citizens and foreign media for what it called distorted coverage of the aftermath of the devastating storm a month ago. And on Saturday, the newspaper dismissed allegations as "groundless" that survivors are being dumped near their devastated villages in the delta without any assistance.
"It is a storm of rumors designed to deal a devastating blow to our country," according to the commentary in the newspaper.
"The rumors are invented and circulated by certain Western countries and internal and external ax-handlers," it said. "In other words, it is just a scheme conspired by a crafty tiger that is desperate to eat the flesh and the fox that is waiting for leftovers."


Updated : 2020-12-05 14:23 GMT+08:00