Myanmar yesterday began three days of mourning for some 78,000 cyclone victims after the ruling junta appeared to relent to foreign pressure to let in more outside help.
Flags at government offices, schools and large hotels were lowered to half-mast, but there was no period of silence, shops were open as usual and many people in Yangon said they had little idea of what the government-announced mourning entailed.
The military-led regime said on Monday it would allow its Asian neighbors to oversee distribution of foreign relief to survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which battered the country on May 2 to May 3.
It also approved a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and prepared to host a meeting of aid donors, while claiming losses from the disaster exceeded US$10 billion.
One of the world’s poorest nations, Myanmar may have problems covering such losses.
World Bank managing director Juan Jose Daboub said yesterday the bank would not give any financial aid or loans because Myanmar has failed to repay its debts for a decade.
Daboub said the World Bank was providing technical support to assess damage in Myanmar and help plan economic reconstruction.
“But the bank cannot legally provide any [financial] resources to Myanmar because it is in arrears with the bank since 1998,” he said in Singapore.
The official death toll is about 78,000, with 56,000 people missing. Conditions in the low-lying delta remain precarious, with survivors facing disease, malnutrition and exposure to the elements.
Heavy rain fell on the delta again on Monday, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), noting it could have the benefit of providing clean water for those able to catch the downpour with plastic sheeting.
“However, the rain for many others simply adds to the misery as they look forward to their 18th night in often-wretched conditions,” the IFRC said in a situation report. “In addition, access to already relatively inaccessible locations is set to remain very difficult.”
The IFRC remained concerned about the distribution of relief supplies, saying: “Reports indicate that in most of the bigger affected townships, basic relief and food is available but much less so in the more remote areas.”
It said there seemed to be problems even at some of the temporary relief camps set up by the government.
“While significant relief is getting through, there are indications of mounting frustration among many displaced communities,” it said.
Myanmar, responding to entreaties from its southeast Asian neighbors, promised on Monday it would let them into devastated areas to oversee and help in the provision of foreign assistance.
In Singapore, an emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN agreed to set up an ASEAN-led task force for redistributing foreign aid.
Myanmar agreed to open its doors to medical teams from all ASEAN countries, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo (楊榮文) said.
ASEAN member Thailand already has sent teams, as have non-ASEAN neighbors India and China.
ASEAN and the UN jointly announced an ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference to seek some of the needed funding, to be held on Sunday in Yangon.
Ban is scheduled to arrive in Yangon tomorrow and to tour the battered delta, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.