Junta Agrees to Let All Aid Workers into Myanmar

Myanmar agrees to allow all foreign aid workers, civilian ships and small boats into the country to help survivors of the cyclone. Chris Webster of the emergency aid organization World Vision tells Michele Norris how this news will affect those most in need of help.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR news, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

I'm Michele Norris

Today in Myanmar, the ruling military generals finally agreed to allow foreign relief workers into the country. This news comes nearly three weeks after Cyclone Nargis left more than 130,000 people dead or missing. In the worst hit areas, over two million people are still struggling to survive, to find food, clean water and shelter.

Chris Webster is part of the emergency response team for the aid organization World Vision, and we reached him in Bangkok. Thanks for being on the program, sir.

Mr. CHRIS WEBSTER (Member, Emergency Response Team, World Vision): No problem.

NORRIS: How are you responding to this news?

Mr. WEBSTER: Well, we welcome what appears to be an opening up in terms of the government's policy to allow foreign aid workers in. And you know, for us, we need to see the details. We understand that foreign aid workers are going to be in but we want to see that translated into both - more access of staff into the country but more access of supplies and technical staff to support our work.

NORRIS: Ban Ki-moon said, today, that the military rulers now will allow aid workers as well as civilian ships and small boats. How will that make a difference, particularly in the Irrawaddy Delta, the hardest hit region?

Mr. WEBSTER: Those are the kind of things that we need to see. And that's going to give us, you know, the means to reach some of these stricken communities. Just consider the weather, you know, it's been raining more or less every day since three weeks ago. There's been strong storms, threats of a second cyclone. I mean, the conditions in which aid agencies and the communities themselves are trying to work in an atrocious system. We need that sort of transportation. We have our own warehouses in Dubai and Frankfurt and other places where we have huge supplies that we would like to bring in. But so far, we haven't been able to scale up to any significant degree. And we really hoping that in the next few days, that's what World Vision and other agencies are going to be seeing.

NORRIS: Because there are so many, sort of, small tributaries all throughout the Irrawaddy Delta, what kind of boats are you talking about?

Mr. WEBSTER: Well, I mean, the small wooden boats, really, for getting from one side to other, between villages. I know there are bigger ships standing by with, you know, significant amount of aid on board, but that's still waiting for the green lights in terms of getting that in. We're still lacking clarity over the scale of this disaster, you know, the numbers of people affected -exactly what they need. And once we get additional stuff into those areas, we'll be out to very quickly assess just what kind of transport and what kind of - what needs to be put in place in order to make this happen.

NORRIS: Is it possible that with all the downed trees and the debris that you might not been able to navigate all these small tributaries by boat?

Mr. WEBSTER: Indeed, that's the reality. There's going to be debris, there's going to be trees and buildings making access a huge obstacle for us. My only hope is that, you know, some of these lines of access are opening up.

NORRIS: The more than two million that are still struggling to survive are very vulnerable to starvation, to disease. It's now monsoon season in Myanmar. What's the realistic outlook?

Mr. WEBSTER: Well, we have two significant challenges. Of course, you know, one is getting food and shelter and water and health care to help prevent what could be a potential - a massive public health crisis. Our assessment teams have been saying that many of the children they're meeting have got diarrhea and dysentery skin infections. The initial kind of symptoms, and you know, provided - they're the basically the platforms for, you know, secondary and more significant health issues like cholera and other water-borne diseases.

The other side of this is the long time impact. I mean, the delta is the rice basket for Myanmar. You know with monsoons and the planting season that's due in a couple of months time, this is going to have a significant impact on their harvest this year. And the commitment that we need is to be there for a number of years in order to see these communities rebuilt. And the detail we need from this announcements is, are we going to have this unhindered access into these communities for a significant amount of time so we can be sure that they're going to be re-built.

NORRIS: Chris Webster is an aid worker with World Vision. He's working on disaster relief from Bangkok, hoping soon to get into Myanmar. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. WEBSTER: Thank you.

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U.N. Chief Urges Myanmar to Allow Cyclone Aid

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Myanmar on a mission to persuade the country's military government to allow a large-scale international aid effort for the victims of the cyclone.

Ban was first flown by helicopter to a village called Kyondah, where he spoke to a few of the 500 or so people huddled in blue tents.

"I'm very upset by what I've seen," he said afterward.

Kyondah is located in the Irrawaddy Delta region, where most of the 78,000 deaths from Cyclone Nargis occurred. An additional 56,000 are officially listed as missing.

In the country's largest city, Yangon, Ban told an audience at a pagoda that he was bringing a message of hope.

"The United Nations and all the international community stand ready to help to overcome the tragedy," the secretary-general said.

In a meeting with Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein, Ban stressed the need to speed up delivery of humanitarian aid. In contrast to reports of appalling conditions in the delta, Thein Sein told Ban that the relief phase of the government's operation was ending and the focus had shifted to reconstruction, a U.N. official at the talks said, requesting anonymity for reasons of protocol.

The latest report from the International Red Cross said rivers and ponds in the delta's Bogalay area were full of corpses and that many people in remote areas had received no aid.

Ban said mutual trust was needed between Myanmar and the international community, which was prepared to send in planes and helicopters to help, the official said.

Myanmar is still reluctant to accept more than a handful of experienced foreign rescue and disaster relief workers.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.

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