Homeless cyclone survivors now face monsoon

08 June 2008

Published Date: 08 June 2008
By Pat Wilde
[Source - ScotlandonSunday]

A SEVERE shortage of housing has left hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in Burma exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season begins.

The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned there was an "urgent need" for tarpaulins to provide the estimated 1.5 million homeless survivors with temporary shelter. Otherwise, they warned, the threat of hunger and disease could intensify.

"Exposure to the elements five weeks after a disaster of this magnitude has to be a major concern," said John Sparrow, a spokesman for the IFRC. "People are in a weakened condition. They are sick, they are hungry. Without shelter, their whole situation is seriously exacerbated."

The UN estimates a total of 2.4 million people were affected when Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2 to 3, and warns that more than one million of those still need help, mostly in the hard-to-reach Irrawaddy delta.

UN officials and aid groups have criticised the regime for hindering access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors.

The top UN humanitarian official said in New York there were now "relatively few people" who have not received any sort of help, but "this aid effort needs to be stepped up further".

"I think people are getting to all the main places, although it's not always as easy as it should be," John Holmes said. "There's no evidence of starvation at the moment, although, as I say, many people are still in significant need of aid."

The UN has said access could be greatly improved if the country's military junta would accept American offers of support, which include the use of 22 military helicopters.

The USS Essex group, which includes four ships, 5,000 US military personnel and the helicopters, on Thursday abandoned plans to deliver aid to the delta after repeated efforts to broker a compromise with the junta failed.

The US military, however, said it was keeping 22 helicopters on standby in case Burma's ruling junta reverses its rejection of such help for cyclone victims, saying the aircraft could reach survivors within three days.

With only seven Burmese government helicopters reportedly flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce and efforts to import vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.

"Of the 1 million or 1.5 million people in need of relief support, we think that between 450,000 and 750,000 are in emergency need," said Lt Gen John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the US relief operation for Burma.

They could be reached "over the course of a three-day period" by American helicopters and landing craft, he said in a telephone interview from a temporary US staging area at Utapao, Thailand.

Goodman said the junta was "still considering" the offer, which would include allowing Burma officials aboard all US helicopters to monitor their routes and to unload relief.

The military leaders are particularly reluctant to allow US helicopters into the delta, given that Washington has been a leading critic of the junta for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand power to a democratically elected government.

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