(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

UN humanitarian chief arrives in Yangon to boost aid efforts

Water is only receding slowly and new rainfall is forecast for the next days. With no access to safe drinking water, many survivors are forced to drink from murky, brown water that carries the corpses of livestock and former neighbours.
International Federation

John Holmes, the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, arrived in Myanmar on 18 May to boost efforts to speed up relief operations to millions of survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

“This visit further underscores the humanitarian community’s expressed concerns that not enough critically needed aid is reaching survivors,” Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN on 18 May in Bangkok.

In addition to pressing for more access for UN workers in the relief effort, he is expected to meet with regional partners and members of the humanitarian community to assist the government in scaling up its relief activities.

His visit follows immense international criticism of Myanmar’s military-led government in its guarded response to the crisis and its refusal to allow large scale relief into the country.


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On 17 May, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the Myanmar government for not allowing international aid to reach cyclone victims. One day earlier, Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's UN ambassador, warned that the Myanmar government’s refusal to allow international aid to be delivered to people in need “could lead to a true crime against humanity”.

Myanmar authorities have refused to allow entry to French and US aid ships, which are waiting off the coast with much needed relief items.

Over 100,000 feared dead

More than 100,000 people are now feared dead and up 2.5 million badly affected after the category four storm slammed into Myanmar’s low-lying Ayeyarwady delta and Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, on 2 and 3 May.

The official death toll now stands at 78,000, with 56,000 still missing.

As of 16 May, 40 townships in Yangon Division and seven townships in the country’s southern Ayeyarwady Division remain on the government’s list of disaster areas.


Photo: International Federation
Medical supplies are urgently needed as local stocks have been destroyed or depleted

According to OCHA, there is an urgent need for food, shelter, medical supplies and water, with health experts warning of an outbreak of infectious disease among the affected populations.

But so far, aid agencies report reaching only around 20 to 30 percent of cyclone victims, leaving hundreds of thousands of people at risk of diseases such as dysentery due to a lack of clean water.

The World Health Organization reports that authorities have begun fogging - a technique used to spray insecticides - in temporary shelters to prevent and control the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue haemorrhagic fever.

However, sufficient stocks were in place for any potential diarrhoeal outbreak, the world health body maintained, with disease surveillance efforts now being intensified, particularly for diarrhoea, cholera, measles, dengue haemorrhagic fever and malaria.

Early estimates suggest that temporary settlements may now be sheltering over 550,000 people in Ayeyarwady and Yangon Divisions, with people moving from the most affected areas in search of basic necessities.

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