$500m ‘still needed’ for cyclone victims

Around half a billion dollars is still required in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy delta, exactly two years after cyclone Nargis killed 140,000 people in one of the region’s worst recorded natural disasters.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Burma, Bishow Parajuli, said on Friday last week that although there had been significant improvements in the living conditions of those in the delta, the international community needed to step up its aid efforts.

“Two years on, significant gaps threaten to slow down or even halt longer-term recovery efforts,” he told AP. “Our work is far from done and the people still need help.”

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report last week warned that the movement of aid workers in the delta region was still being heavily restricted by the Burmese junta, which was lambasted following the cyclone in May 2008 for initially barring aid workers and foreign aid from entering the country.

Restrictions on aid workers could tighten in the run-up to elections in Burma this year, the rights group added.

Like Parajuli, however, the report noted that certain areas, such as the agriculture sector, had shown signs of recovery. Much of the progress is attributed to the Tripartite Core Group, comprised of the UN, ASEAN and the Burmese government, which was formed shortly after the cyclone, and created an opening for aid into the country.

The TCG put the three-year recovery cost at $US690 million, but only $US180 of that has so far been received. The UN said that 180,000 people in the delta were suffering acute water shortages, while 100,000 families still lack proper housing.

Estimates in November last year put the number of people still living under tarpaulin roofs distributed in the weeks following the cyclone at 178,000. Concerns about shelter are now high as Burma edges closer to its annual monsoon season.

According to HRW, more than 20 cyclone recovery workers are in jail, while DVB journalist Ngwe Soe Linn, who filmed a group of children orphaned by the cyclone for an award-winning Channel 4 documentary, was last year given a 13-year prison sentence.

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