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Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 16:42 UK

UN calls for Burma aid corridor

Burmese troops unload water from a US Air Force C-130 at Rangoon airport (12 May 2008)
Relief for those affected by Cyclone Nargis has been slow to arrive

The United Nations has called for an air or sea corridor to be opened to channel large amounts of aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma.

The UN's humanitarian agency said there was a risk of a "second catastrophe" unless a massive operation began.

The UN said it had only been able to reach 270,000 of the 1.5m survivors.

European nations have meanwhile called for the UN principle of "responsibility to protect" to be applied, allowing aid deliveries without Burma's consent.

UN member states acknowledged in 2005 a collective "responsibility to protect" people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

BBC reporter on improvement in aid situation

France, Germany and the UK said they would make the proposal to the UN Security Council, but acknowledged they did not have unanimous support from the EU, French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade told reporters in Brussels.

Earlier, the military government in Burma said it remained opposed to granting visas to foreign aid workers to help co-ordinate the relief operation.

Vice-Admiral Soe Thein said it was grateful for the aid shipment from the United States that arrived on Monday but insisted that "skilful humanitarian workers are not necessary".

A BBC correspondent in Burma says more aid is getting through, but many people have yet to receive any help.

'Haphazard' delivery

The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis has now reached 34,273, according to Burmese state television, but observers fear the final count will be much higher. A further 27,838 people are missing.

The spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, Elizabeth Byrs, warned that its teams had only been able to reach 270,000 people - less than a fifth of the estimated total of survivors.

EXTENT OF THE DEVASTATION
Detail from Nasa satellite images

"We are only seeing the peak of the iceberg, and the situation risks becoming a lot more dramatic if there isn't an acceleration of humanitarian aid," she said.

So far, she said, the World Food Programme had been able to send only 361 tonnes of food aid - and distribute just 175 tonnes.

A further 55,000 tonnes of rice would be needed to feed those most in need for the next three months, Ms Byrs said. Half of the rice would need to be imported.

"The scope of the disaster is huge," she warned. "That's why we need to act quickly in order to avoid a second disaster or maybe a third disaster."

"We need a kind of air bridge or sea bridge, and huge means as... we did during the [2004 Asian] tsunami. It's the same kind of logistical operation. That's why it's urgently needed that we act now," she added.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told Burma's government there is not a moment to lose, warning that rice stocks in the country are "close to exhaustion".

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Emergency help has been held up by Burma's military leaders, who have accepted the aid but refuse to allow foreign experts to co-ordinate its delivery.

Aid agencies say much of the food and equipment is not getting to those who need it because the junta does not have the organisation to transport it.

A BBC correspondent inside Burma says aid delivery is haphazard and private citizens have begun to distribute water and cakes from the backs of their cars rather than waiting for the soldiers to help.

The AFP news agency reported that the military had imposed a curfew in some of the worst-affected areas in the Irrawaddy Delta region over fears that rice rations would be stolen.

"You can't go out after 7pm because the soldiers will shoot," a 60-year-old man from the village of Pyin Ka Yaing told one of its reporters.

'Immense frustration'

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says much of the aid that has arrived in the country has sat at Rangoon's airport for days.

He adds that after more heavy rain, the survivors are living in wretched conditions and the fear of a further wave of deaths from disease is a real one.

An aid worker's account of conditions in Burma's Delta region (12 May)

World leaders have stepped up their rhetoric against the Burmese generals in recent days, with Mr Ban expressing "immense frustration" at what he described as their "unacceptably slow" response.

US President George W Bush described the generals as either "isolated or callous".

"There's no telling how many people have lost their lives as a result of the slow response," he told CBS radio.

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the UN must use "all means necessary" to ensure aid got through to those who needed it most.

A US flight carrying about 13 tonnes of supplies including mosquito nets, blankets and water arrived in Rangoon on Monday followed by two flights from aid agencies carrying 56 tonnes of aid.

The US has said it hopes to send in two more transport aircraft carrying aid later on Tuesday. Two lorries carrying relief supplies overland have also now arrived.


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