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UN Offers Emergency Funds For Cyclone-Hit Burma

UN Humanitarian Chief Offers Emergency Funds For Cyclone-hit Myanmar

6 May 2008 - The top United Nations humanitarian official announced today that he is prepared to provide a grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help those affected by the deadly cyclone which struck southeast Myanmar over the weekend.

"The Government of Myanmar has indicated that they are open to international assistance. We appreciate the Government's announcement that it is making available approximately $5 million from its own resources for emergency relief, and I am ready to allocate a significant amount from the CERF as the most urgent needs become clear," said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.

Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall in the Irrawaddy delta region on Friday, left thousands of people dead in its wake and hundreds of thousands without shelter. With winds of over 190 kilometres per hour, the storm, which hit Yangon later that same night, tore down trees and power lines and causing widespread flooding.

Myanmar authorities have declared five regions - Yangon, Ayeyarwwady, Bago, Mon and Kayin - disaster areas. The population of the declared disaster areas is estimated at 24 million, with an estimated 6 million in Yangon. More than 3,000 people are reportedly missing in Ayeyarwady Division alone.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said the number of people in need of assistance is expected to be "sizeable." The most urgent needs, according to the UN Country Team in Myanmar, include shelter, water purification tablets, cooking sets, mosquito nets, emergency health kits and food.

A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team is being dispatched to Myanmar and is expected to begin work shortly. Lack of communications has hampered efforts to obtain accurate information on the impacts of the storm and on populations affected.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted yesterday that the lack of communications has made it difficult to ascertain the extent of the casualties and damage, but stressed that the UN is prepared extend necessary assistance and to mobilize international aid in support of the Government, if needed.

UN agencies have already begun working to address the situation. The UN refugee agency is emptying its emergency shelter material stockpiles in neighbouring Thailand of plastic sheeting and tents for some 10,000 people for urgent dispatch to Yangon. The supplies would be distributed through a Disaster Management Committee that had been established by the Myanmar Government.

Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists in Geneva that the agency's office in Myanmar yesterday purchased $50,000 worth of urgently needed basic supplies in Yangon for distribution, including emergency tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and canned food.

In addition, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has dispatched five assessment teams to three of the affected areas and is positioning relief supplies. The agency says it will work with partners and the Government to provide access to clean water, safe sanitation and improved hygiene, and will seek to protect children and help them return to school as soon as possible.

The emergence of water borne and vector borne diseases are a major concern for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which has stressed the need to have access to potable water to avoid diseases. Noting that malaria is present in the part of the country hit by the storm, the agency also stressed the need for insecticide-treated mosquito nets for those affected.

Meanwhile, the head of the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) today stressed the importance of having life-saving early warning systems and preparedness programmes in place when cyclones strike.

Salvano Briceño noted that many cyclone-prone countries, such as Cuba, Japan, and Bangladesh, have implemented efficient early warning systems that have reduced the death toll caused by cyclones. "When there are comprehensive early warning systems in place, starting from meteorological technology all the way through to preparedness and contingency plans, people can be effectively warned and have time to evacuate to safer places." Bangladesh has a 48-hour early warning system in place that allows people to evacuate to safe cyclone shelters hours before any cyclone makes landfall. This has drastically reduced their death tolls from cyclones - from 300,000 deaths from Cyclone Bhola in 1970, to 3,000 last November during Cyclone Sidr. "These measures are proven lifesavers," said Mr. Briceño.

ENDS

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