UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured Myanmar’s disaster area yesterday on the first day of a visit aimed at pushing through a full emergency relief effort after Cyclone Nargis.
Making the first trip to this impoverished nation by a UN leader in more than four decades, Ban said he had come bearing a “message of hope” after the tragedy, which has left nearly 134,000 people dead or missing.
Around 2 million more are in dire need of emergency assistance, and Myanmar’s junta has stunned the world by refusing a full-scale foreign relief effort that could save countless lives.
Ban spent less than three hours on a helicopter tour of the Irrawaddy Delta, which bore the brunt of the storm — and which the regime has kept off-limits to almost all foreigners, including disaster relief workers.
A UN official said that Ban was taken to two camps in the southern region hardest hit by the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s history.
He is scheduled to meet the country’s isolationist military ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, today. The general refused to take Ban’s phone calls or respond to his letters in the days after the disaster.
“I’m quite confident we will be able to overcome this tragedy. I’ve tried to bring a message of hope to your people,” Ban said earlier as he made an offering at the country’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Shwedagon Pagoda.
“At the same time, I hope your people and government can coordinate the flow of aid, so the aid work can be done in a more systematic and organized way,” he said.
During a meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, Ban expressed frustration over “the inability of the aid workers to bring assistance at the right time to the affected areas.”
The regime says that around 78,000 people have died and 56,000 are missing since the storm hit three weeks ago. Aid groups fear the actual toll could be far higher.
The UN estimates that only 25 percent of those in need have been reached by international aid.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that the first of 10 helicopters approved by the junta to work in the country had arrived yesterday.
“It’s very good news,” WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said. “We’ve got barges in Yangon, lots of boats, trucks and now helicopters.”
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