UN head to urge more aid in Burma

British Broadcasting Corporation

UN head to urge more aid in Burma

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has arrived in cyclone-hit Burma to tour the devastated Irrawaddy Delta and meet with military ruler Gen Than Shwe.

Mr Ban said the focus should be on saving lives, not on politics.

Burma’s rulers have blocked large-scale international aid but have now agreed to allow some UN helicopters to carry supplies to survivors.

Aid agencies say they are delivering about 30% of what they would like, 20 days after Cyclone Nargis struck.

‘Critical moment’

The death toll from Cyclone Nargis currently stands at 78,000 dead, with another 56,000 missing.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and the UN says that less than a quarter of the 2.4 million people affected have received aid.

Ships from the British, French and American navies are standing by off the Irrawaddy Delta but they have not been allowed to deliver it.

“We must do our utmost for the people of Myanmar [Burma],” Mr Ban said before leaving Bangkok, in neighbouring Thailand, for the short flight to Burma.

“This is a critical moment for Myanmar. The government itself acknowledges that there has never been a disaster on this scale in the history of their country.”

He will tour devastated regions on Thursday and then fly to the remote capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for talks with General Than Shwe on Friday.

Mr Ban will also attend a donor conference in Burma’s commercial capital, Rangoon, on Sunday.

Pressure on generals

His visit follows that of the UN humanitarian co-ordinator John Holmes.

Mr Holmes has described his negotiations with the Burmese government as painful and frustrating.

He also said he was very worried about the lack of reliable information from the disaster zone, and that he could still not be sure how many survivors were waiting to be reached.

He added that a lot was riding on the meeting between Mr Ban and the Burmese leadership.

There are signs that the generals are feeling pressure to do more for their people, says a BBC correspondent in Burma.

World Food Programme (WFP) officials said the military had agreed to allow the UN agency to use 10 helicopters to deliver aid.

But the helicopters have to chartered, flown to Bangkok and assembled before they can be put into operation.

A WFP official said they had permission to fly directly to cyclone-hit areas with supplies, rather than unloading them at the airport in Rangoon for the Burmese authorities to distribute.

The government also agreed to allow more foreign aid workers in – from its neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Burma has been criticised for the slowness and inefficiency of its response to the cyclone and its reluctance to accept international offers of help.

There are signs that people in Burma are angry with their government. Some students have threatened strikes and protests if more help is not accepted from wherever it is offered, says our correspondent.

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