UN chief to visit cyclone-hit Myanmar on May 22

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United Nations, May 20: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to arrive in Myanmar on Thursday to visit the areas that have been most affected by cyclone Nargis, which swept through the country early this month. The UN chief is scheduled to meet the senior government officials in Yangon, according to information available at the United Nations.

Mr Ban's objective is to reinforce the ongoing aid operation to see how the international relief and rehabilitation effort can be scaled up, and to work with Myanmar authorities to significantly increase the amount of aid flowing through Yangon to the Irrawaddy delta, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters yesterday. Up to 2.4 million people have been affected by the disaster and more than 130,000 are listed as dead or missing. The UN chief released a joint statement with chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announcing that an international conference will be held in Yangon on Sunday to raise money from donors for the crisis.

The statement said the conference would seek international support and financial assistance ''to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as the long-term recovery efforts.''

Mr Ban and the ASEAN chairperson led on the international community to rise to the occasion and translate their solidarity and sympathy into concrete commitments to help the people of Myanmar emerge from the tragedy and rebuild their lives. Meanwhile, the UN's top relief official visited three cyclone-affected areas, including the town of Labutta in the delta, with the full cooperation from the Myanmar authorities.

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes also met the UN humanitarian country team and with the Myanmar Red Cross and plans to hold talks with Government officials later today.

UN agencies in Myanmar reported that they were making progress in reaching victims of the cyclone, but that the operation still needs to be ramped up. The UN World Health Organisation said the official toll of dead and missing now exceeds 132,000, with more than 19,000 injured.

Speaking at a press conference in Bangkok, spokesperson Maureen Birmingham said assessments of the health needs of townships was continuing. She cited Ngaputaw township as one specific example.

WHO found that the most common conditions reported there after the cyclone were injuries, followed by acute respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, dysentery and malaria. Some 46 per cent of the population of the township has been affected by the cyclone and 49 per cent of houses suffered some damage.

WHO and its partners have procured more than 350 tons of medical supplies and equipment for the cyclone-affected area. These include three million water purification sachets, 90,000 water containers, more than 50,000 insecticide treated mosquito nets, shelter equipment and emergency health kits.

The World Food Programm (WFP) said it has dispatched enough food to feed over 250,000 people with a first ration of rice enough to last for two weeks as well as high-energy biscuits and beans. Most supplies were purchased by the agency within Myanmar itself. WFP is using air transport as well as boats, barges and tugs to distribute aid.

WFP spokesperson Marcus Prior said that this was still insufficient and too slow. He said aid workers were coming across settlements that have received little if any assistance so far.

Amanda Pitt, of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the current estimate for people who had been displaced was around 150,000. She said they are staying in 120 official or spontaneous settlements.

The UN International Telecommunication Union has deployed 100 satellite terminals to facilitate in-country coordination of the humanitarian effort.

UNI

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