Myanmar claims "rescue and relief" phase for cyclone over (Roundup)
May 22, 2008, 11:42 GMT
Bangkok - Myanmar's junta claims the relief phase of an emergency programme for Cyclone Nargis is over, causing a discrepancy in outlook on the crisis that promises to affect a donor conference this weekend, ASEAN's secretary general said Thursday.
The junta's outlook on the disaster promises to affect the United Nations and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) donor pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday, intended to raise money for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into Myanmar's central coast on May 2-3 leaving at estimated 133,000 dead and missing and another 2.5 million in need of food, water, shelter and medicines.
Discrepancies between the Myanmar government's figures and appraisal of the cyclone catastrophe and those of the international aid community continue to be an issue days before the conference.
The emergency aid programme for Cyclone Nargis has been bogged down by lack of access to the most affected areas, and the Myanmar government's reluctance to acknowledged the extent of the calamity.
While international aid agencies claim to have only reached 25 per cent of the affected population, Myanmar's junta is already claiming that the 'rescue and relief' stage of the operation is completed, said Surin.
Surin told a press conference that he and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently in Myanmar, were trying to get the Myanmar authorities to verify their figures before the upcoming donor pledging session on Sunday.
'By saying that the relief and rescue effort is over, the pledging is going to be conditioned upon detailed plans, action plans, distribution systems, disbursement systems, monitoring mechanism and transparency,' said Surin.
'Because as you and I know when people are dying it is easy for all of us to just dip into our pockets and give, but now if the rescue and relief is over, you need a detailed plan of action,' he added.
Myanmar's regime is preparing to ask for 11 billion dollars from the international community for 'rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement' in the affected areas, unless it changes its tune on the 'rescue and relief' phase of the programme between now and Sunday.
While the international community is keen to provide humanitarian aid to assist the victims of the cyclone, it may be less willing to provide the government with what amounts to development aid.
Myanmar is currently under economic sanctions from most Western governments.
The country has not received aid from multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and IMF since 1988, when the regime cracked down on a pro-democracy movement and left 3,000 people dead.
Most bilateral aid programmes were also cancelled in 1988, and have never been resumed.
The junta's status as a pariah state in the international community has no doubt affected its cautious response to offers of international assistance for Cyclone Nargis, and the prospect of an influx of foreign aid workers.
International aid workers, many of them frustrated by the slow pace at which aid is reaching the cyclone victims, have pinned their hopes on the upcoming UN-ASEAN conference as a door to facilitate the relief process.
'We appeal to ASEAN to use the mandate given to them to lead this task force to facilitate more aid coming into the country, not just in terms of aid supply but also in terms of expertise,' said Jemiah Mahmood, director of Mercy Malaysia, a non-governmental organization suppling emergency aid to Myanmar.
Myanmar authorities have only reluctantly granted visas to foreign relief experts, and many of those allowed in have been barred from travelling to the Irrawaddy delta region where the majority of the cyclone victims reside.
The junta's stance may be behind the lukewarm response to a UN flash appeal for 200 million dollars in emergency aid for Cyclone Nargis.
According to latest statistics, only 23 per cent of the appeal has been met.