Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 13:50 UK

UN fuel appeal for Burma farmers

Residents wait for free rice from the government following devastating cyclone Nargis in Burma, May 8, 2008.
Aid agencies warn of food shortages if farmers cannot plant rice

Burma's cyclone-hit farmers urgently need a million gallons of diesel fuel to plant rice and ward off future food shortages, the UN has said.

The 2 May cyclone, which hit the country's Irrawaddy Delta, killed hundreds of thousands of livestock normally used for ploughing.

Donors have provided farmers with small power tillers to replace them.

But fuel to run them is expensive and always in short supply in the South Asian country.

During a visit to Burma, officially known as Myanmar, a senior United Nations official appealed to donors for fuel to ensure timely ploughing of rice fields in the Irrawaddy Delta, the rice-bowl of the country.

"The window of opportunity is very short and the need is of the utmost urgency," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), a UN body.

"The planting season in the delta is June to July after which it will be too late, with disastrous consequences for food security in Myanmar and the region."

The window of opportunity is very short, and the need is of the utmost urgency

Noeleen Heyzer
UN Under Secretary General

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says it is unclear where the fuel could come from.

Sourcing locally for all sorts of needs, from rice to vehicles, is often not an option, he says - either because supplies are limited, or because of obstacles thrown up by the Burmese government.

Aid agencies say they are still not getting the full access for their international staff which was promised three weeks ago.

They say they are now required to go through a cumbersome reporting process for every trip into the delta that could significantly slow down the relief effort.

According to official figures, 78,000 people were killed in the cyclone and another 56,000 are missing. More than two million people have been affected, aid agencies say.

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