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May 21, 2008

Nargis more disastrous than tsunami


UN chief Ban Ki-moon: Hope to set up a "logistics hub" to coordinate international aid


Cyclone Nargis may have inflicted more severe and longer-lasting economic losses to Myanmar than the tsunami that devastated part of Indonesia's Aceh province in 2004, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday before flying to Southeast Asia, reported AFP.

Ban was expected on Wednesday in Yangon where he was to be given a Myanmar government tour of the Irrawaddy delta, the worst affected area when Nargis went through two weeks ago, killing tens of thousands of people. The delta had been the food bowl for Myanmar.

"I want to see the conditions under which relief teams are working, and I intend to do all I can to reinforce their efforts in coordination with Myanmar authorities and international aid agencies," Ban was quoted by DPA as telling reporters at UN headquarters before leaving for Bangkok and then Yangon.

Myanmar estimated damage caused by Nargis to the impoverished nation at more than 10 billion dollars and has asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to handle relief aid. It said it was too late for farmers to plant the next rice crop in the delta under the circumstances caused by Nargis.

"In this sense, the economic effects of the natural disaster that has struck Myanmar could be more severe and longer-lasting than the 2004 tsunami," Ban said.

The undersea earthquake that triggered the tsunami in December, 2004, killed up to 200,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province. The international community sent billions of dollars to help the Jakarta government reconstruct the areas.

Ban will preside with Asean a pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday to devise plans for Myanmar's relief and recovery programs.

Following his meetings on Wednesday in Yangon with Myanmar government officials, Ban will fly to Bangkok for talks with Thai officials on the situation in Myanmar. He then will fly back to Yangon for the conference before returning to New York.

Ban said he hoped to set up a "logistics hub" to coordinate international aid, either in Myanmar or in the region, and that the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could jointly assign a coordinator.

With survivors still desperate for help, global pressure is mounting on the regime to do more for the storm victims. Myanmar agreed at regional talks Monday in Singapore to allow neighboring countries to coordinate an international relief effort.

But doubts emerged over how effective any relief effort would be, since the military has refused to allow in foreign aid workers in anything like the numbers needed, despite warnings that people could die without help.

Ban will spend two days in Myanmar Thursday and Friday, before returning to Bangkok for a series of bilateral meetings Saturday. He is scheduled to meet with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, Ban said.

He goes back to Yangon Sunday for a fundraising conference organized jointly by the United Nations and Asean, then is scheduled to return to New York Monday.

Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday questioned the relevance of a scheduled fundraising conference for cyclone-battered Myanmar, saying it was more important for military rulers in the Southeast Asian state to provide swift increased access to disaster-hit areas.

"Without an adequate and independent assessment of the situation and current needs, as well as a commitment by the regime to provide the necessary access, a pledging conference is unlikely to produce the results we seek," US envoy to Asean Scot Marciel told a Congressional hearing.

Marciel said the United States, which had provided more than 16 million dollars of humanitarian aid through the UN and non-governmental groups, was reviewing possible participation at the fundraising conference.

Washington, he said, still believed that the key to saving more lives was to increase access urgently to the disaster areas for international relief teams who could provide the expertise and logistical resources that the military regime lacked.

"We will continue to exhaust all diplomatic channels and opportunities to persuade the regime to grant access to the experts and assets that can expedite the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need," he said.

The junta insists it is capable of managing the logistics of the aid distribution operation but "it clearly is not," Marciel said. He added critical shortages abound - helicopters and helicopter pilots to ferry supplies to inaccessible areas, doctors to treat the sick and prevent infection and public health experts to provide sanitation facilities.

More on Myanmar


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