( – promoted by buhdydharma )
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is en route to Myanmar today, but already his presence in the region seems to have had an affect:
“We have received government permission to operate nine WFP (World Food Program) helicopters, which will allow us to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible,” Ban told reporters in New York on Tuesday before departing for Southeast Asia. His announcement was not immediately confirmed by officials in Myanmar.
“I believe further similar moves will follow, including expediting the visas of (foreign) relief workers seeking to enter the country,” Ban said, warning that relief efforts to save survivors of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis had reached a “critical moment.”
“We have a functioning relief program in place but so far have been able to reach only 25 percent of Myanmar’s people in need,” he said.
Progress can’t come too soon, as cyclone victims, desperate for food, beg by the side of the road:
ASEAN is also pressing for a wider relief presence in the hardest hit areas:
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan met with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein Wednesday to explain the association’s self-assigned role in a massive, but much delayed, relief effort underway in the country in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which swept over the central coast on May 2-3, leaving 133,000 people dead or missing.
‘He (Surin) stressed that the expeditious execution of these steps would create an atmosphere of mutual confidence among all parties concerned,’ said a statement issued by ASEAN after Surin’s meeting with General Thein Sein.
‘This will ensure the success of the tremendous tasks at hand, including the upcoming ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on 25 May 2008, and the rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconstruction that will follow,’ it added
Such assistance cannot come too soon, as this BBC interview with Dr Sean Keogh, who worked for nine days in the region, illustrates:
“Some families have been so completely wiped out, there is no-one to bury the dead,” he added. “They are hanging from trees and trapped on posts.”
Children had been particularly badly hit by the cyclone, he said, with orphans most at risk from illness, malnutrition and even abduction.
“A lot of young children can’t swim and some people have many children and they can’t save the whole family,” he said.
“Many children have lost both parents. They are obviously highly vulnerable and we don’t want them to get picked up.”
The BBC also reports separately that the junta has been actively cracking down on random acts of kindness by local Burmese who want to help:
“When we arrived in the first village, the police came to us and said not to distribute to the villagers. We all were very upset.”
Tun Tun and his team of private volunteers simply moved on to the next village. Here the village head approached Tun Tun and said that he could not distribute aid there.
At this point, according to Tun Tun, “the villagers angrily confronted the village head”.
The situation became clearer when the village head explained his predicament. He was ordered, on receiving aid from volunteers, to first make a list of the aid, then to report this to the township council, which would then report to the division council, which would then decide how and who to distribute aid to – but only after 24 May, the date of the postponed referendum.
“The villagers were very angry, very angry when they heard this. You know, they have been eating coconut, bamboo shoots and the inner stems of a banana for a week, ” said Tun Tun.
In spite of this – and the military regime’s recent, repeated rebuff of US offers of assistance to deliver supplies by naval ships – aid is still getting through, as Bridget Gardner, the head delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Burma recently reminded the world community:
Ms Gardner said aid was reaching badly affected regions but urged the world “not to forget us, not to forget Myanmar in spite of all the other things that are going on in the world”, such as the devastating earthquake in China.
“On the ground, things are happening but of course everybody wants things to happen bigger, and better, and faster,” Ms Gardner said from Rangoon today.
“There are still very vulnerable communities in the delta, the ones that are the most difficult to reach, so support is still required for some of the actions are being taken.”
“We have the people in Yangon (Rangoon) ready to go. We’re having negotiations with authorities and we are assisting the Myanmar Red Cross with its efforts.”
Please keep the people of Burma (Myanmar) and the victims of the earthquake in China in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.