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UN boosts its helicopter fleet in Myanmar to 6 for cyclone relief operations

UN boosts its helicopter fleet in Myanmar to 6 for cyclone relief operations

Five U.N.-chartered helicopters landed Saturday in Myanmar to help with cyclone relief efforts, but a myriad of problems kept hindering attempts to help victims of the May 2-3 storm.
The five helicopters _ two from South Africa and three from Uganda _ were transported to Bangkok, Thailand more than a week ago and flew into Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, said U.N. World Food Program spokesman Paul Risley.
The aircraft joined one that began ferrying supplies on WFP's behalf Monday to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta.
"This is a big boost in the U.N. cyclone response capacity," Risley said. "The helicopters will multiply the work of the first helicopter, which has been shuttling food and humanitarian assistance."
He said four more helicopters for WFP use were in Bangkok and were expected to fly to Myanmar in the coming week.
The relief effort, however, still faces numerous troubles including a severe shortage of housing materials _ a situation that aid agencies say could leave hundreds of thousands of Cyclone Nargis survivors exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season, which is starting now.
Myanmar's military has insisted it is capable of handling relief efforts on its own, and only slowly and reluctantly allowed foreign experts into the delta.
The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that there was an "urgent need" for tarpaulins to provide the estimated 1.5 million homeless survivors with temporary shelter. Otherwise, the organizations said, 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 Red Cross spokesman. "People are in a weakened condition. They are sick. They are hungry. Without shelter, their whole situation is seriously exacerbated."
Myanmar has run out of tarpaulins, and the market for some other non-food relief items is very tight because of the demand from victims of China's May 12 earthquake, the U.N. said.
The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that the "potential for price gouging is high."
The agency said funding for its logistics operation must be stepped up, because only US$20 million (euro13 million) of the US$50 million (euro32 million) required has been received.
"These funds are needed to extend the outreach of the operation from the hubs to those villages that have yet to receive assistance," the agency said in its latest situation report.
It also indicated that foreign relief workers still face hindrances in reaching cyclone victims, especially outside of Yangon.
While there have not been reports of U.N. staff meeting obstacles in obtaining visas to Myanmar, the visa process for international humanitarian groups "still seems to be more cumbersome," said the report, adding that some members of such groups have visa requests that have been pending for up to three weeks.
It said the process to get authorization to travel from Yangon to the Irrawaddy delta is taking at least two or three days.
The U.N. estimates that a total of 2.4 million people were affected when Cyclone Nargis hit May 2-3, and that more than 1 million of them, mostly in the delta, still need help.
U.N. officials and aid groups have criticized Myanmar's ruling junta for restricting access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors.
John Holmes, the top U.N. humanitarian official, said Friday in New York that there are now "relatively few people" who have not received any sort of help, but that "this aid effort needs to be stepped up further."
"I think people are getting to all the main places, although it's not always as easy as it should be," he said. "There's no evidence of starvation at the moment, although, as I say, many people are still in significant need of aid."
With only seven Myanmar government helicopters reportedly flying, relief supplies were mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say that boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce, and that government red tape has impeded efforts to import vehicles.
The junta has rejected the U.S. military's repeated offers to fly aid into the delta by helicopter.
Myanmar's junta, long shunned by Western governments because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government, remains sensitive to foreign criticism.
Reports in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper lashed out Friday at the country's own citizens and foreign media for what it called distorted coverage of the cyclone's aftermath.
On Saturday the newspaper dismissed as "groundless" allegations that survivors were being dumped near their ruined delta villages without any assistance.
"It is a storm of rumors designed to deal a devastating blow to our country," said a commentary in the newspaper.
It said such rumors were "invented and circulated by certain Western countries" and their puppets inside and outside Myanmar.


Updated : 2021-05-09 21:47 GMT+08:00