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UN warning over Burma cyclone aid

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Paul Risley of the UN World Food Programme on the challenges for agencies

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Hundreds of thousands of people in Burma's Irrawaddy Delta still need assistance - a year after a deadly cyclone, the UN and aid agencies warn.

The UN and Burma's neighbours made a $700m (£469m) appeal for reconstruction in February but have so far received pledges of only $100m (£67m).

The UN says it is now allowed to bring in all the staff it needs after an initial ban by Burma's (Myanmar) junta.

Cyclone Nargis killed about 140,000 people in 2008.

More than two million people were left homeless.

A Burmese woman sits near her house in the Irrawaddy Delta. Photo: April 2009
Reconstruction in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta has barely begun

'Intensely suspicious'

The cyclone that ripped across the fertile delta of the Irrawaddy caused a humanitarian disaster on a scale comparable to the Asian tsunami.

Yet the amounts of aid being requested are just a fraction of what was spent on countries like Indonesia after the tsunami - and not much is forthcoming yet.

Part of the problem is that most foreign journalists are banned from reporting in Burma - so there is little public awareness of the work being done by around 60 international aid agencies there.

Another factor that deters donors is the fear that aid could be misused by the military - a fear that Save the Children's (STC) Andrew Kirkwood says is unfounded.

"We have 3,000 of our own staff in the delta, and I'm absolutely confident that the assistance given to STC and other agencies got exactly where it was supposed to go - there has been no systematic diversion of those funds," Mr Kirkwood says.

Large numbers of the cyclone's survivors are still living in flimsy shelters; many supplies remain contaminated by salt.

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Reconstruction - as opposed to emergency relief - has barely begun.

The one bright spot, say the agencies, is that they are getting as much access as they need for their staff.

Although they still need to ask permission from a military government that remains intensely suspicious of any foreign presence in the country.



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