UN officials urge Yangon to ensure aid delivery

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New York, May 8 (UNI) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the top UN humanitarian official has urged Myanmar authorities to facilitate the delivery of aid in the wake of the deadly cyclone that wreaked death and destruction in the country.

The government in Myanmar has confirmed that more than 100,000 have died, and more than 41,000 people are missing, following Cyclone Nargis which struck the southeast Asian nation late last month.

Initial estimates suggest that up to 1 million people are currently homeless, and many more require assistance.

"The Secretary-General believes that this is a critical moment for the people of Myanmar, and emphasised the importance of providing as much assistance as possible in the vital first few days following the cyclone's impact," according to a statement issued yesterday by Mr Ban's spokesperson.

He welcomed the news that some UN aid officials will be allowed into Myanmar later today, which will assist assessment and prioritisation efforts.

"Given the magnitude of this disaster, the Secretary-General urged the Government of Myanmar to respond to the outpouring of international support and solidarity by facilitating the arrival of aid workers, and the clearance of relief supplies in every way possible," the statement said yesterday. ''This can significantly aid the Government in responding to this tragedy.'' Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes echoed Mr Ban's call, stressing that "any delays are going to be potentially critical" in the face of such a disaster.

Members of a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team will be flying to Myanmar later today to coordinate relief efforts together with the national authorities.

Mr Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated that while assistance has started to arrive, the effort is clearly not adequate given the enormity of the situation. "We are faced here with a major catastrophe," he told journalists at UN headquarters in New York.

The undersecretary-general added that the UN will allocate at least 10 million dollars from the Central Emergency Response Fund for the aid effort. In addition, over two dozen countries have indicated their willingness to contribute to relief efforts, in the amount of 30 million dollars. The UN is working with the government to prepare a flash appeal to donors to be launched tomorrow.

Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall in the Irrawaddy delta region and then moved across the country's largest city, Yangon, caused widespread destruction, including destroying homes, tearing down trees and power lines and damaging communications.

Myanmar authorities have declared five regions - Yangon, Irrawady, Bago, Mon and Kayin - disaster areas. The combined total population of the disaster areas is around 24 million.

"Time is of the essence and we are already reaching storm victims with food. We are mobilising all possible resources to save lives given the massive disruption in food, water, and shelter caused by this storm," said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, speaking from Washington.

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