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Lack of access hampers cyclone relief efforts

May 6, 2008 (DVB)-Some assistance has been getting through to victims of the recent cyclone in Burma, but delivering aid to more remote areas, a United Nations official said today.

Richard Horsey, spokesperson for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the major challenge now was distributing aid within the country.

"There are some cargo flights that have already arrived today, particularly from the Thai Red Cross, and in terms of the UN and other agencies, the flights are under preparation to get necessary emergency supplies to Yangon," he said.

"But the main problem now is not getting the things to Yangon, but getting them from Yangon out into the affected areas."

Horsey said that current priorities were plastic sheeting and roofing materials for shelter and water purification tablets to ensure people have clean water.

Some supplies, including water purification tablets and plastic sheeting, had been routinely stockpiled by the UN in the country but now need to be distributed to victims of the natural disaster.

Assessment teams are currently working their way through the Irrawaddy Delta region and beginning to establish logistical networks to allow vehicle access to remote areas and assess where help is most needed.

Horsey said the UN was not collecting its own figures on casualties, but noted the government's estimate of more than 15,000 killed and said this number could continue to rise as some of the worst-affected areas are only just beginning to be reached.

He said the Burmese government had taken some steps to assist international relief efforts.

"I think it's clear that the government recognises that this is an unprecedented disaster for Myanmar – nothing like this has happened in recent times – and that it calls for an unprecedented response," he said.

"They are making available helicopters and boats to the relief effort to make sure that some supplies are getting to the areas that are cut off, but clearly much more needs to be done in terms of getting assistance out."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw


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