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Senior UN official pledges Burma support

Dec 8, 2009 (DVB), The UN's assistant secretary-general yesterday expressed a "strong commitment" to helping Burma reach the Millennium Development Goals during talks with the Burmese junta.

Burma ranked 132 out of 177 countries in the 2007-2008 UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. It has an annual per capita gross national income of $US220.

Its agriculture sector is yet to recover from cyclone Nargis last year, which destroyed around 178,000 hectares of farmland, according to the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan.

A statement released by the UNDP following a meeting between assistant secretary-general Dr Ajay Chhibber, who is also the UNDP assistant administrator, and Burmese government officials, including agriculture and irrigation minister, Htay Oo, identified several areas for further cooperation.

"As a follow-up to previously conducted Agricultural sector reviews and house hold surveys, UNDP will support a thorough analysis of the Millennium Development Goals and an Agricultural sector comparative study," it said.

This will be done in cooperation with the Food and Agricultural Office (FAO) and "relevant international institutions and experts".

The delegation visited two villages in Burma's central Mandalay division where the UNDP has set up microfinance initiatives and an Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP). The ICDP, it says, has covered "about 251 villages and assisted a population of 168,681".

"I am pleased to see that these [microfinance] loans clearly target and benefit women from poor and low-income households and help change their lives," said Dr Chhibber. "They encourage entrepreneurship and market activity."

No trip however was made to the country's southern Irrawaddy delta, which took the brunt of the cyclone which killed 140,000 and left 2.4 million homeless.

The UN announced last month that 178,000 people in the delta still lacked proper shelter, and many were living under tarpaulin distributed in the wake of the cyclone.

Last week, a famer complained that government fiscal support for the agriculture sector, at monthly loans of $US8 per acre of farmland, was inadequate.

Aid groups have warned that it may take three years for the country's agricultural production to reach pre-cyclone levels. Nearly 60 percent of families in the delta region are dependent on farming as their primary source of income.

Reporting by Francis Wade


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