Page last updated at 18:18 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 19:18 UK

UN to resume Burma food flights

Relief supplies from Bangladesh are unloaded at an airport in Yangon 7 May
Aid from a number of Asian countries has been arriving in Burma

The World Food Programme says it will resume aid flights to Burma on Saturday, despite a row over the local authorities impounding deliveries.

The government said it had taken control of the aid to distribute it.

The UN secretary general urged Burma to allow in aid teams "without hindrance". Later, the UN launched a $187.2m (96m) appeal to help victims of the cyclone.

Burma's envoy to the UN expressed his gratitude and said they would accept aid from any quarter.

The sheer survival of the affected people is at stake
Ban Ki-Moon
UN Secretary General

"What we urgently need are medical supplies, food, clothes, emergency generators, food and shelter. This flash appeal is timely and welcome."

He added that the first US plane to be allowed in is expected to arrive in Burma on Monday.

Announcing the appeal, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said it was vital that any obstacles that had hindered aid deliveries until now be resolved soon.

"If we do not act now and do not act fast, more lives will be lost," he said.

Burmese state media say 22,980 people were killed, but the UN fears between 63,000 and 100,000 people could be dead or missing.


A BBC correspondent and aid worker Tim Costello, of World Vision, describe the situation in Burma to Radio 4's The World At One.

The country's ruling generals have faced mounting criticism over their handling of the crisis, their reluctance to allow international aid teams into the country and their insistence on distributing aid themselves.

Mr Ban said he had been unable to contact the head of the ruling junta, General Than Shwe, to ask him directly to allow relief teams in.

"If early action is not taken and relief measures put in place the medium-term effect of this tragedy could be truly catastrophic," he said.

The generals have also been criticised for going ahead with a national referendum on a new constitution on Saturday, while so many people are in desperate need of aid.

The government says the referendum will pave the way for democratic elections in 2010, while the opposition says it is intended to tighten the generals' rule.

The BBC's Andrew Harding says it is a gamble and now there is a chance that public anger could translate into big "No" vote, particularly given the military handling of the storm's aftermath.

Disease fears

The UN fears more than 1.5 million people have been affected by the cyclone, with tens of thousands made homeless and vulnerable to disease.

UK $10m
UN $10m
Japan $10m
US $3m
France $3m
Australia $2.8m

The World Health Organization says access to clean drinking water and outbreaks of communicable diseases such as dengue and malaria are a major concern.

Hundreds of thousands of people have no food, water or shelter. International aid agencies on the ground say some aid has been distributed in the delta region, but they have reached only 10% of those that need help.

The World Food Programme says discussions with the government will continue about the impounded aid - which includes 38 tonnes of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 95,000 people.

But regional director Tony Banbury said talks on Friday had stalled and he was worried that a national referendum being held on Saturday would scupper further negotiations.

"I don't know what channels will be open to us to communicate with the relevant authorities, and to encourage them to reverse this very unfortunate decision," he said.

'Murdering own people'

Some charities say they have succeeded in getting some help through but are worried that reports of aid efforts being hampered could stop people making donations if they think it is not making a difference.

Detail from Nasa satellite images

"That would be a huge irony because they're getting there and it would be a tragedy if those stopped flowing in the next few days," said Save the Children's Jasmine Whitbread.

"Every day we've been able to reach another 10,000 people with bottled water, food, plastic sheeting, blankets, the basic life-saving response kit that we do in all humanitarian responses."

The BBC's Jonathan Head in neighbouring Thailand said the military leaders appeared to be putting their pride and entrenched suspicion of foreigners before the lives of their people.

One aid official told him the Burmese government was "murdering their own people by letting them die".

Tim Costello, from World Vision Australia, said aid workers in Burma were experiencing feelings of guilt about not being able to do enough and felt fear and frustration as a result of that.

"But their job is to work with the situation and keep hope alive and keep going," he told a Disasters Emergency Committee news conference in London.

Thai pressure

The BBC's Paul Danahar, in southern Burma despite restrictions on journalists, says the survivors need more than food.

He says they have been cut off and helpless for seven days and are surrounded by tens of thousands of rotting corpses.

What they really need, he says, is the corpses to be moved, clean water, shelter, and efforts to start rebuilding the devastated infrastructure.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says two trucks with shelter supplies are due to cross the border from Thailand on Saturday.

Spokeswoman Vivian Tan said the agency had assurances from the government that it would be allowed to monitor the distribution process.

Thailand's Foreign Minister, Noppadon Pattma, said he would be asking his Burmese counterpart to be more flexible regarding the admission of aid and aid teams.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific