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Aid Coordinator Says Situation Is Dire in Myanmar
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Aid Coordinator Says Situation Is Dire in Myanmar



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Today, Myanmar began a three-day period of mourning. Flags were flown at half-staff, but according to the Associated Press, many people of the city of Yangon said they don't quite understand what exactly the mourning period involved. As for aid efforts, the United Nations estimates that only a quarter of people who need aid have gotten it. Today, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the military rulers of Myanmar have agreed to let some U.N. helicopters deliver food to areas outside Yangon, areas that were hardest hit by the cyclone. The secretary-general is scheduled to visit Myanmar on Thursday.

To find out more about aid efforts, I spoke earlier with Jean-Sebastien Matte. He is an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Yangon. Mr. Matte said he's been in Yangon for a week now, but he hasn't been able to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta where cyclone survivors are awaiting aid.

Mr. JEAN-SEBASTIEN MATTE (Doctors Without Borders): Nevertheless, we have around 250 nationals that are able to provide some relief effort in the area as we're having a regular program in the country with around 1,000 national staff. So a lot of them are coming from our regular program to give a tremendous effort, but unfortunately it's still not enough to get the relief in the delta area.

NORRIS: Now, when you say national staff, you're talking about not foreign workers but the people of Myanmar who actually worked for Doctors Without Boarders.

Mr. MATTE: Yeah, exactly, and we have huge programs for HIV patients in the country. So we have some skills that are quite good, but the only thing is that they are not experienced in those kind of situations. Normally, in the classical, let's say, situation like this, we would probably send 80 or 100 international staff that are well experienced and experts in this kind of situation, so it could - it would go much more faster. But unfortunately, we have to see it the other way around; now the international staff that is supporting the national staff in their huge effort.

NORRIS: Now, I know that the communication systems in the country have broken down, but what kinds of reports are you getting back from the folks that are out there in the field?

Mr. MATTE: The communication devices are almost all broken so we were having a - we try to have once a day communication with them. So it's not easy to support them, to be able to send the right material, to be able send the right people to give supply to the population. So we're quite worried. There's still, 18 days after the catastrophe, people that haven't seen any relief material or people.

NORRIS: What do people most need now?

MATTE: Well, definitely the shelter issue, to put a roof for them in the rainy season, that's quite important. We're seeing a lot of respiratory infection of the people are in the wild or gathering in pagodas, monasteries and some schools, if there's still some schools standing or pagodas. The food is definitely urgent, to get much more food, much more food in there. And so far we're crossing our finger. We're not seeing any outbreak, but much more, more and more cases of diarrhea are seen every day.

NORRIS: Well, thank you very much for speaking to us. Jean-Sebastien Matte is the emergency coordinator with the group Doctors Without Borders. He spoke with me from Myanmar's capital Yangon. Thanks so much, sir.

Mr. MATTE: Thank you very much.

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