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UN: Hundreds Of Thousands Of Burmese in Dire Need of International Aid


United Nations aid officials are in Geneva trying to drum up support from international donors for the desperate needs of hundreds of thousands of people in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The officials say donors still have not fulfilled their pledges of some $500 million to help the recovery of victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the country two years ago.

Cyclone Nargis killed more than 140,000 people and left about three million homeless. The cyclone tore trees apart, flattened schools and homes, and deprived millions of jobs and income. Many positive things have been achieved since that disaster, but much recovery works remains.

U.N. Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator Bishow Parajuli says too many people continue to suffer from food shortages, malnutrition is rampant, unemployment is high and poverty widespread. He says about 100,000 households - or one-half million people - still need proper shelter. Parajuli says they continue to live in temporary shelters two years after the Cyclone ripped apart their homes.

"These people have just collected what was broken out of their houses - and have used some of their tarpaulins and other support provided by the international community - and have rebuilt their accommodations," says Parajuli. "So, they are sort of temporary in nature. It is not tent, but it is a combination of tarpaulin, wood, bamboos, thatch and that type of thing."

Parajuli says the critical shelter needs of the Burmese people have received the least support from the international community.

In February 2009, the United Nations launched an appeal for $691 million to support a three-year recovery program. The U.N.'s humanitarian operations remain under-funded by about $500 million.

People in the Ayeyawardi Delta are not the only ones struggling to survive. The country overall suffers from problems of food security. The World Food Program notes that Burma is a country with a food surplus and significant agricultural potential. The organization says the biggest problem, though, is being able to effectively distribute that food, especially in the more remote areas.

WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization carried out an assessment at the end of last year. Country Director and Representative, Chris Kaye, says the survey finds 10 percent of the population falls below the food poverty line. He says that means five million people are food insecure.

"We have got national stunting rates of 32 percent," says Kaye. "The prevalence of underweight children is 34 percent and global acute malnutrition is estimated at an average of nine percent … nine percent is high when you talk about it as an average. What is of real concern to us is the fact that in a number of locations - and as I mentioned in the peripheral areas - those global acute malnutrition rates are much, much higher."

Kaye says the situation is particularly bad in the predominantly Muslim State of Northern Rakhine. He says an assessment shows global acute malnutrition rates are more than 18 percent. He says that rate surpasses even that found in Somalia.

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