Aid starting to trickle into Burma: agencies
Published Tuesday, May 6, 2008 11:02PM EDT
While obstacles hamper delivery, international aid is starting to trickle into Burma to help the survivors of a cyclone that has killed at least 22,400 people.
"This assistance is on its way," United Nations relief spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said Tuesday in Geneva.
However, aid workers are facing travel and visa problems. Some countries are complaining that Burma's rulers are reluctant to accept direct aid.
"We're prepared to move U.S. navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," U.S. President George Bush said.
The White House has pledged US$3.25 million in aid.
Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, said his country would provide 25 per cent of a $3.1-million European Union pledge.
However, Burmese officials want an additional US$300,000 to distribute themselves, something he described as "not a good way of doing things.
"It's not a lot but we don't really trust the way the Burmese ministry would use the money," said Kouchner, who helped found the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has said that Canada wants "Burmese authorities to provide full and unhindered access to humanitarian organizations to allow them to assist with the relief efforts."
Canada has agreed to provide up to $2 million in emergency relief.
Here are some other nations' contributions and pledges to date:
- China: US$1 million in aid and relief materials;
- Norway: Up to US$1.96 million;
- Spain: US$775,000 donation to World Food Programme;
- Switzerland: US$475,000 (initial);
- Czech Republic: US$154,000
- Denmark: US$103,600
- Sweden: Logistical support and water cleaning systems
Cyclone Nardis struck Burma on Saturday, tearing a swath through the low-lying Irrawady Delta, a critical rice-growing region located on a peninsula between the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Mottama. The cyclone moved northeast to pass over Rangoon, the country's largest city.
Besides the 22,400 dead, another 41,000 people have been reported missing. The number of people left homeless is estimated to be one million. Burma has population of about 49 million.
Of the Irrawady delta, EU humanitarian office spokesperson Simon Horner said, "The reports that are coming back from some of our partner organizations ... is that there are some communities where the destruction is close to 100 per cent."
Anne-Francoise Moffroid, another EU official, said it's still difficult to know how many people need aid, given the destruction and the isolation of many affected areas.
"Many volunteers from the local Red Cross have died in the disaster," she said. "I think it will be a major challenge to bring assistance to these areas."
The International Red Cross said its first shipment arrived Tuesday.
It is working with the local Red Cross to distribute plastic sheets, drinking water, insecticide-treated bed nets and clothing.
World Vision's Pam Sitko said the group is working with the national government to distribute clothing, blankets, food, emergency shelter and clean water to those hardest hit by the disaster.
Speaking from Thailand, Sitko said the most pressing need is to provide clean drinking water and clear the roads so that aid can be delivered to those who need it most.
"It's not just water systems. That's just a start," she told CTV Newsnet. Disease prevention and medical care for the injured are other top priorities, she said.
A vote on the country's draft constitution had been set for Saturday, but state radio was reporting that the vote would be held over until May 24 in 40 townships around Yangon and seven in the Irawaddy delta. However, balloting will proceed as scheduled in less hard-hit areas.
Some critics say the new constitution is designed to cement military control over Burma. The military has governed since 1962.
With files from The Associated Press