UN says relief effort still facing restrictions

May 14, 2008 (DVB)‚ A United Nations official has said that the aid situation has improved in Burma, but ongoing government restrictions mean the UN is still unable to mount a full-scale relief effort.

Richard Horsey, spokesperson for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said some visas had been issued to UN staff but the country needed to allow more relief experts in.

"The question is not only about visas, it also depends on access to the delta and some other cooperation like the necessary equipment and other things," Horsey said.

"Much, much more is needed, but there have been some improvements over the last day or two."

Burmese nationals who work for UN agencies have been operating in the delta since the day after the storm, but foreign nationals still need permission to leave the former capital Rangoon.

"It's very important that [international experts] can come to Yangon, but also can if necessary travel to the affected areas to provide the necessary advice and assistance," he said.

The aid effort is also being hampered by a lack of boats after 90 percent of the boats in the delta were damaged or destroyed in the cyclone.

Horsey said the World Food Programme had established logistical hubs in Labutta and Bogalay, with at least one more planned.

"These are temporary warehouses where food and other things can be stored and some offices so that the distribution can be done at the local level," he said.

"It's very important to have a logistics base not only in Yangon but also in the affected areas to [enable] an easy distribution of goods and to increase the amount of goods that can be distributed."

Horsey stressed that UN aid was being channelled to camps and settlements through the UN system and not through the government, and was then being distributed within the camps.

"Normally it should be bilateral international aid, government to government, then the Myanmar government distributing that aid," Horsey said.

"One thing is that the Myanmar Red Cross is assisting with some distribution at the local level. So maybe sometimes they are the ones who are carrying the boxes or helping to move some of the things at the very local level," he said.

"But monitoring is done by the UN, and where it is distributed is decided by the UN and so on, not handed over to the government," he said.

Horsey also responded to claims that aid supplies have been sold in markets instead of being given to cyclone survivors, saying there was so far no evidence of this.

There has been a systematic checking of the markets in Yangon by some embassies to see if there are any cases of selling aid, and also interviews with some of the traders and other people at the markets," he said.

"So far all of the major markets in Yangon have been checked, and there is no evidence yet of any aid being sold in any of the main markets in Yangon," he went on.

"Of course, it doesn't mean that it's not happening anywhere, but it does mean that it's not happening at a very high level, otherwise it would be very easy to find."

Asked about reports of another cyclone, Horsey said the UN was monitoring the situation closely and people should expect heavy rains but current reports did not suggest a cyclone.

"Of course it is the cyclone season, so this time of the year is the normal time for cyclones so we are monitoring very carefully. But at this moment there is no new cyclone," Horsey said.

"However, there is some heavy rain and maybe thunderstorms , normal situation for the monsoon period," he said.

"There will be heavy rains, so this may be a problem for the people and a problem for the roads and for aid efforts, but there is no cyclone."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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