Politics of devastation: UN halts aid to Myanmar after military seizes supplies
May 9, 2008
YANGON, Myanmar ” Myanmar’s junta seized U.N. aid shipments today meant for a multitude of hungry and homeless survivors of last week’s devastating cyclone, forcing the world body to suspend further help.
The aid included 38 tons of high-energy biscuits and arrived in Myanmar today on two flights from Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.
“All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” U.N. World Food Program spokesman Risley said.
“For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time,” he said.
At least 62,000 people are dead or missing in Myanmar, entire villages are submerged in the Irrawaddy delta and aid groups warned that the area is on the verge of a medical disaster.
The U.N. has grown increasingly critical of Myanmar’s military rulers’ refusal to let foreign aid workers into the country while the junta appeared overwhelmed and more than 1 million homeless people waited for food, medicine and shelter.
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“The frustration caused by what appears to be a paperwork delay is unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts,” Risley said. “It’s astonishing.”
The military said in a statement Friday it was grateful to the international community for its assistance ” which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid supplies ” but the best way to help was just to send in material rather than personnel.
Nearly a week after the storm, survivors are now having to contend with rotting corpses of people and animals as they wait for food, clean water and medicine.
“Many are not buried and lie in the water. They have started rotting and the stench is beyond words,” Anders Ladekarl, head of the Danish Red Cross.
About 20,000 body bags were being sent so volunteers from the Myanmar chapter of the Red Cross can start collecting bodies, he said.
The U.N. was putting together an urgent appeal to fund aid efforts over the next six months. Spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters that the exact amount of the appeal would be specified later Friday.
The International Organization for Migration says it is asking for $8 million as part of the appeal. The U.N. refugee agency says it needs $6 million to fund the immediate shelter and household needs of 250,000 people.