Myanmar Aid Now Reaching Irrawaddy Delta

U.N. agencies in Myanmar say international aid workers are finally moving into the Irrawaddy Delta. More visas for aid workers are being processed, and half a million people have now received food rations from the World Food Program.

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In Southeast Asia, leaders are hoping that Myanmar may open up further for aid efforts. This past weekend, the U.N. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hosted an international aid conference in Myanmar. Donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to help the cyclone victims there.

And as NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao reports now, those donors also made their expectations clear.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Donors want unhindered access to remote areas devastated by cyclone Nargis immediately. They also stressed, says Richard Horsey with the U.N.'s humanitarian office in Bangkok, that more resources would be made available only when conditions on the ground permit aid delivery in the appropriate way.

Mr. RICHARD HORSEY (Spokesman, United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Bangkok): Obviously it's urgent and it's been urgent since day one. The longer we wait the more the risk of secondary phase problems, and the more the risk the people who'd have been reached in the early days have not been and they suffer problems as a result.

XAYKAOTHAO: Three weeks on and reports out of Yangon from aid workers, reporters, and monks indicate that many people still had not received vital food, shelter, water and medical assistance. But Horsey says he hasn't seen any indications of a second wave of death.

Mr. HORSEY: There are these surveillance teams out in the affected areas, and so far, they have not detected any outbreaks of diseases. There are isolated cases of diseases, but these are no different than the levels that we saw before the cyclones and do not represent an outbreak. Obviously, we're monitoring outbreak closely but there's no indications at this point.

XAYKAOTHAO: Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, says bringing international aid to the victims of cyclone Nargis is a Herculean task for both the U.N. and ASEAN.

Dr. SURIN PITSUWAN (Secretary-General, Association of Southeast Asian Nation): We don't want to lose any more time. We don't want to lose any more momentum. Whatever flexibility, whatever allowance that they can give, that they can make will certainly contribute to our works.

XAYKAOTHAO: Last week, the Myanmar military rulers agreed for the first time to allow international workers of all nationalities to the Irrawaddy Delta where most of the deaths were reported. And this week, aid agencies in Bangkok said there was no longer a backlog of visas. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan says a new humanitarian space has been created by the Myanmar government and the international community.

Dr. PITSUWAN: There are low-hanging fruits that can be harvested, and that is accessibility, delivery of supplies already on the ground, and monitoring and the ability to admit and allow foreign aid workers, humanitarian workers into and out to the field.

XAYKAOTHAO: In the meantime, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent says they delivered more than 700 tons of relief supplies to cyclone victims. A spokesman for the Red Cross told NPR: at the moment we have reason to be hopeful, and if we can deploy quickly, new problems can be averted.

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News, Bangkok.

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