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UN: Nearly Half of Burmese Cyclone Victims Don't Receive Aid


The United Nations reports only about half of the 2.4 million survivors of Burma's devastating Cyclone Nargis have received assistance. But, it says that aid is generally spotty and not enough. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Just over a month ago, Burma's deadliest storm in 40 years struck the country, killing tens of thousands of people and rendering millions homeless. The United Nations says aid agencies have managed to reach 1.3 million victims in the worst hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

Spokeswoman for the UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Elizabeth Byrs, describes this as progress.

"However, with regards to the beneficiaries it is important to note that most of these persons have been reached with inconsistent levels of assistance," said Byrs. "For example, assistance provided is not sustained and in some cases is well below requirements. That is why there remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance."

Nevertheless, compared to the weeks following the cyclone disaster, the humanitarian situation has improved. The Burmese military rulers, which had rejected most offers of foreign aid, finally relented under intense international pressure.

Relief supplies now are regularly being flown into Rangoon. And, Byrs says it now is much easier for U.N. international staff to go out into the field to help the victims. She says U.N. foreign workers are granted access to these areas within 48 hours after notifying the authorities.

But, she says the Burmese authorities do not accord the same privilege to foreign specialists working for international and non-governmental agencies such as the International Red Cross Federation and Save the Children. And, this she says, is hampering the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation.

"We would urge the government to extend this expedited clearance to all international NGO's [non-governmental organizations] who are working in Myanmar. Their staff is urgently required on the ground."

Byrs says international experts have begun an important assessment mission to the stricken area to get a clear picture of all the needs. She says a full report will be ready toward the end of the month.

In the meantime, foreign aid groups are calling on the Burmese authorities to stop closing cyclone relief camps. Human rights groups have condemned the authorities for evicting displaced people from government shelters and pushing them to go to the homes that have been swept away.