Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 17:12 UK

UK pledges 5m in aid for Burma

Fallen tree in Burma. Photo released by Democratic Voice of Burma
Survivors have been sheltering in schools and churches

Britain has promised 5m to Burma to help the survivors of a cyclone that struck on Saturday leaving more than 22,000 dead and many more missing.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander told BBC News it was the right response for "an extremely serious humanitarian situation".

International aid agencies are pushing to gain access to the area for a massive relief operation.

Some UK charities have already begun distributing aid packages.

Save the Children aims to provide 30,000 families with food supplies, water purification kits, plastic sheeting, kitchen equipment and rehydration salts.

'Largest single effort'

Christian Aid has sent 50,000 to its partners carrying out relief work in the country and the British Red Cross has released 30,000 from its disaster fund to pay for supplies in the region.

Both have also launched appeals for the public to donate money.

Oxfam committed up to 250,000 in aid and has put a team on standby.

Right now the international community has to bend over backwards to alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people
Pancha, Brussels

Meanwhile, Cornwall-based charity Shelterbox is sending 200 tents to provide shelter for 2,000 people, with another 600 expected to be sent over in the next few days.

Mr Alexander told BBC News Britain's contribution was "the largest single effort of any member state of the United Nations so far".

He also called for the Burmese government to allow the international community access to carry out assessments and provide much-needed relief.

Speaking earlier at a conference in London, the prime minister offered sympathy on behalf of the British people to those suffering in Burma.

Gordon Brown said: "I believe nearly a million people are now in need of food aid, and we will have to help the families of those where people have died.

"I want to pledge on behalf of the British government that we will work with the whole international community to make sure that the food aid and the other support that is necessary is available to the people of Burma."

'Stretched to the limit'

Save the Children, which has had a presence in the military-ruled country for 13 years, says there are difficulties distributing aid.

Amanda Weisbaum, head of emergency response, said: "Public transport prices have risen 1,000%. Fuel and all transport are hard to source and, with a few exceptions, electricity and landline communications have also been cut.

"Trucks and boats and other logistical support are also needed to help distribute the materials.

"Families are using flood water and water from lakes. Food is available but the cost has gone up by 50%," she added.

Communications are down in the cyclone-hit areas, roads have been washed away and getting aid to people will be very difficult
Sarah Ireland, Oxfam's East Asia regional director

Dan Collinson, programme manager for Save the Children in South East Asia, said in some cases there were more than 1,000 people per shelter and people were fighting over access to water, nails and candles.

Shelterbox said 200 boxes, each including a 10-man tent, blankets and water carriers were on their way to the country.

Tom Henderson, the charity's chief executive, said a team of four workers was flying out on Tuesday to distribute the packages and he was confident they would be allowed access.

"We have operated in North Korea and Lebanon and are well used to working hard to get this done," he said.

Quick response

Christian Aid's four local partners say shelter, food, and clean water are urgently needed.

The charity's Asia specialist, Anjali Kwatra, said it had been difficult to get information from the ground.

But one handwritten letter taken into Thailand revealed salt water had been contaminating fresh water wells and a lot of military were on the streets of Rangoon trying to organise relief work, she said.

Sarah Ireland, Oxfam's East Asia regional director, said: "The aid effort faces huge challenges.

"Some 24 million live in the areas affected by the storm. Communications are down in the cyclone-hit areas, roads have been washed away and getting aid to people will be very difficult.

"The international community needs to be quick both to respond to this crisis and to ensure the needs of those most affected are met."

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