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ASEAN:  Political Situation in Burma Still Impeding Aid

Burma will continue to require international aid to ensure communities hard hit by the devastation from Cyclone Nargis are able to avoid starvation. But, as Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, despite the help from the United Nations and Association of South East Asian Nations, senior ASEAN officials says the political situation in Burma continues to hinder their efforts.

The Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is warning that the international community needs to continue to maintain support for relief operations in Burma.

Burma needs at least $1 billion in emergency relief and reconstruction over the next three years for the hardest hit areas in the Irrawaddy delta region that bore the brunt May 2 cyclone.

More than 130,000 people were killed or remain missing from the cyclone, with the total cost of rebuilding estimated at more $4 billion.

ASEAN, together with the United Nations and Burma, formed the Tripartite Core Group after the international community pressured the Burmese government to open the country for more assistance.

Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary general, told reporters Friday that recovery efforts are ongoing.

"The emergency, the recovery is still with us," he said. "That is solid. We are not going into any long-term planning."

The tripartite group this week released the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, based on surveys conducted by 250 officials and volunteers of the worst affected regions.

Puji Pujiono, a senior United Nations Development Program (UNDP) officer, said that while the political situation in Burma is impeding aid efforts, there has been some success in helping the hardest hit communities.

"Where we are standing now our colleagues, the political complication remains there, it will continue to be there for the months to come," he said. "The suffering is still there, people still lacking food, shelter and so on. But we have the mechanisms; we have done something right in this tripartite core group."

The storm wiped out around 4,000 schools and about 75 percent of health facilities and damaged or destroyed about 800,000 houses and more than 600,000 hectares of farmland.

Don Baker, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Burma, says the international community's continuing efforts remain vital for recovery.

"Nobody has died since the cyclone from starvation but when we did the PONJA survey more than half of the population at that time only had food supplies for one day," he said. "So we have to keep the food going until the next harvest and even beyond because this next harvest is not going to be a full one."

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, while commending the Tripartite Core Group, warned assistance to victims was still being hampered by the military government.

Human Rights Watch said large numbers of people are still not receiving aid and face food shortages, shelter needs, lack basic sanitation and face grave psychological consequences from the cyclone's impact.