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Aid Slow to Arrive in Cyclone-Damaged Myanmar

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Aid Slow to Arrive in Cyclone-Damaged Myanmar


Aid Slow to Arrive in Cyclone-Damaged Myanmar

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Irrawaddy Delta region of Myanmar may finally get some aid three weeks after a cyclone there left 134,000 people dead or missing, more than 2.5 million threatened by hunger and disease. The nation's military junta agreed to allow foreign-aid workers and relief ships into the region after a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, but Myanmar is still banning military vessels from the United States, France and Britain from delivering supplies.

Gordon Bacon is the emergency response coordinator of the International Rescue Committee, and he joins us from Yangon. Mr. Bacon, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GORDON BACON (Emergency Response Coordinator, International Rescue Committee): Pleasure.

SIMON: Do you have workers in the region yet?

Mr. BACON: I'm the only international. I've been here just over two weeks, but we've put together a team of nationals, and we have been able to take some aid out. We have a team of eight people in Bangkok, and hopefully the news from yesterday and more that I've heard this afternoon at a coordination meeting, we are optimistic that this team of eight may be moving into Yangon very quickly.

SIMON: And what do you need to do immediately?

Mr. BACON: Without the full team in, it's been very difficult. All we've been able to do at the moment is to move one shipment that came in by air to a town called Pathein in the west, and it will be taken from there down into the Irrawaddy Delta to the western edge of the delta where, you know, many, many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, are in dire need.

We want to increase that (unintelligible) of aid to the most needy people, and that's part of what this coordination- and information-sharing meeting was about this afternoon.

SIMON: What has the Burmese government said to you over the past two weeks about the delay in aid?

Mr. BACON: They have been sort of welcoming aid officially. What they have said is that internationals could not travel outside of Yangon. One of the important factors that came out of the meeting today was that access to the most devastated areas is going to be permitted.

SIMON: Well, I mean, I don't want to put you in a bad position, but over these past two weeks, it must have been very frustrating for you to have the means to do something and be told you couldn't do it.

Mr. BACON: Yes it has been frustrating. In the meantime, we've been able to buy some locally procured goods and distribute them with the help of a mixture of a couple of permanent members and an awful lot of very good world volunteers.

SIMON: Are you being watched?

Mr. BACON: I don't think so. I mean, we've been very open. When I went to have a meeting with a deputy minister, I was told yes, the International Rescue Committee can work here, yes you can bring your aid in, yes you can distribute and monitor it, which is obviously vitally important, to make sure it gets to the right places.

They asked us to work the local Red Cross, which we struck up, I believe, a very good working relationship with, and I'm the only international here. I was told I couldn't travel, and at the moment, I haven't tried to travel because I don't want to jeopardize our efforts of putting in a long-term program here because although we want to work on the emergency situation, we want to be here long-term to help the people recover.

SIMON: Would it be fair to say that whatever happens now, a lot of people have already died during this two-and-a-half-week delay?

Mr. BACON: Well, an awful lot of people are very vulnerable. I haven't heard any comments of people who have died because they haven't received aid, but I think there undoubtedly are people who have not received aid, many, many hundreds of thousands, even into the millions.

SIMON: Gordon Bacon is emergency response coordinator of the International Rescue Committee, speaking with us from Yangon. Thanks so much.

Mr. BACON: Thank you very much indeed.

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