For aid workers, accessing Myanmar's cyclone-stricken Ayeyarwady Delta had meant a hop into the World Food Programme (WFP) helicopter and being airborne for about an hour. Not any more. The service stopped on 15 August after Myanmar’s government failed to extend it.
“It is back to six-hour-long road trips or boat rides,” grumbled an aid worker.
Chris Kaye, WFP country director, confirmed that the service had been discontinued. The agency had started off with a fleet of 10 helicopters after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on 2 and 3 May 2008. The service delivered 1,119MT of life-saving supplies, including food and shelter materials, and transported thousands of aid workers and people needing urgent assistance.
The operation was reduced to a single helicopter in recent months but continued to provide critical access to the delta not only for WFP but the entire humanitarian community as roads are often inaccessible after rains.
"The service was a great convenience also for government officials and donors conducting assessments of the various post-Nargis programmes," said Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar.
However, Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's country director in Myanmar, pointed out that the continuation of the service had to be weighed up against the fact that the relief operations in the delta were no longer in an emergency phase and “maybe the funds allocated for the air service could be better used elsewhere now”.
Aid operations, after Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people and affected 2.4 million, are now in a recovery phase, with thousands of beneficiaries.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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