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Burma: UNICEF Helping Cyclone-Impacted Children

Myanmar: UN agency moves ahead with assessing how to help cyclone-impacted children

26 May 2008 - Welcoming the decision by Myanmar's authorities to grant international aid workers access to victims of Cyclone Nargis, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is pressing ahead with its assessment of the situation of children and women in the hardest-hit areas.

"Based on the meetings that I have been having with senior government officials here, I get the impression that they are committed to do the best that they can to address the consequences of the disaster," said Anupama Rao Singh, the agency's Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. "I really hope that we will be able to do much more than what we have been able to do so far."

She is currently in Myanmar on a fact-finding mission and took part in yesterday's international pledging conference in Yangon chaired by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the UN, attended by more than 50 nations.

At that meeting, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed for donations to assist victims of Myanmar's deadly Cyclone Nargis, noting that the relief effort will last at least six months.

"There is good reason to hope that aid to the worst affected areas of Myanmar will increase significantly in the coming days. These needs must be funded, immediately," Mr. Ban, who said that 130,000 people have either died or are still missing since the storm struck Myanmar on 2 May, noted in his address at the start of the conference.

On Friday, he announced after talks with Senior General Than Shwe that the country's leader had agreed to allow international aid workers, regardless of their nationality, into the hardest-hit areas.

"I am encouraged by my discussions with Myanmar's leadership in recent days. They have agreed on the need to act urgently," the Secretary-General said at the pledging conference. "I hope - and believe - that any hesitation the Government of Myanmar may have had about allowing international humanitarian groups to operate freely in the affected areas is now a thing of the past."

According to the UN, some 2.4 million people - 40 per cent of whom are children - have been severely affected.

UNICEF said that immediate priorities for children are procuring access to clean water, sanitation, proper nutrition and shelter.

Furthermore, the agency has prioritized getting children back to school, which it sees as a key step in helping them recover from the event and boost their quality of life.

"The sooner we can get education facilities or child friendly spaces going, the better it would be for children," Ms. Rao Singh noted.

Myanmar seeks to re-open schools in some of the cyclone-impacted areas by 2 June.

In the wake of the storms, UNICEF - which has been in the South-East Asian nation since 1950 - has been providing health, education and water and sanitation supplies as well as technical assistance.

Meanwhile, over 3,000 tons of food aid provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners has now reached some 460,000 peoples.

Air-bridge flights from the logistics hub at Bangkok's Don Muang Airport to Yangon are now underway daily, with the first two having taken place on 24 May.

ENDS

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