May 26, 2008 (DVB)-Representatives of 51 countries gathered in Rangoon yesterday for a pledging conference chaired jointly by the United Nations and ASEAN to raise funds for cyclone relief efforts in Burma.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and emergency relief coordinator John Holmes welcomed the Burmese regime’s decision to allow international staff into the badly-hit Irrawaddy delta area and to work with an ASEAN-led humanitarian task force composed of senior officials and disaster relief experts from ASEAN countries.
Holmes said the conference was intended to boost cooperation and unite the aid effort.
"The meeting intends to encourage cooperation in providing assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis and to show that the international community is united in helping the people of Myanmar," he said.
Both Ban and Holmes were keen to stress that this was a humanitarian mission with no political agenda, although Holmes did make reference to the time that has already been lost in getting relief to the people who need it.
The emergency relief coordinator said around 2.4 million people are badly affected by the cyclone, with up to 2 million of these in need to urgent assistance.
He said the most critical concern was the possibility of a "potential second wave of deaths due to diseases and nutritional deficiency among those not so far reached or only reached with small amounts of assistance".
Aye Win, the UN spokesperson in Rangoon, said it was the first conference to set out procedures for the UN, ASEAN and the international community to provide help to the cyclone victims.
"Cyclone Nargis caused large-scale destruction and aid has no reached all areas; the secretary-general estimated that only about 25 percent of the disaster-hit areas have received the aid they need," Aye Win said.
"We hope that the arrival of the international aid workers can help us bring assistance to those victims much more quickly and this is a very important matter."
Aye Win also said that the Burmese junta has approved the appointment of Bishow Parajuli, previously of the UN World Food Programme in Egypt, as the successor to Charles Petrie, the resident coordinator who was expelled from the country last year.
Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Si√¢n Thomas