PRESS CONFERENCE BY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON LAUNCH OF REVISED APPEAL FOR MYANMAR

10 July 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE BY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON LAUNCH OF REVISED APPEAL FOR MYANMAR

10 July 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR ON LAUNCH

 

OF REVISED APPEAL FOR MYANMAR

 

A revised appeal for Myanmar, known as the “Cyclone Nargis Response Plan” and launched this morning, asked donors for $481.8 million, $280 million more than the amount sought in the initial 9 May Flash Appeal, John Holmes, the top United Nations emergency relief official, said today at Headquarters.

Mr. Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the Appeal covered 103 projects submitted by 13 United Nations agencies and 23 non-governmental organizations.  The initial Appeal, for $201 million, had received 75 per cent funding, leaving an unmet requirement of some $304 million.

Accompanied by Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Daniel B. Baker, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yangon, Myanmar, Mr. Holmes said the revised Appeal included $112 million for food, $58 million for agriculture, $54 million for early recovery, $50 million for water and sanitation, and $50 million for logistics.  Other sectors requiring funding included health, shelter, education and protection of children and women.

He said those amounts were derived from a soon-to-be-published “Post-Nargis Joint Assessment” submitted by the Tripartite Core Group comprising Government, ASEAN and United Nations officials.  All areas of the affected Ayeyarwady Delta were being reached and the emergency operation was still under way.

Mr. Pitsuwan said the disaster had affected 1.4 million people, according to early estimates, but the number of affected people was now estimated at more than 2 million, of who 1.3 million had been reached, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).  Full access to all those affected had been guaranteed, and well-tested techniques were being used for the aids operation.  The affected areas had been divided into 128 quadrants, all covered by more than 300 volunteers.

He stressed that, in accordance with one of the conditions of the Joint ASEAN-United Nations International Pledging Conference held on 25 May, there was no Government impediment to access.  The three components of the Tripartite Core Group had been working together since early June and the full report would be released in Singapore on 21 July.  The positive response so far had been very encouraging, and the cooperation between the United Nations and ASEAN had been a model for cooperation between the world body and regional organizations.

Mr. Baker added that participants in the Pledging Conference had expressed a desire for a credible assessment of needs and assurances of access.  All international aid workers had been issued with visas and granted access to destinations in the field.

Responding to questions, Mr. Holmes said the greatest increases in the revised Appeal were in the agricultural sector and the area of early recovery.  Food needs had also grown and those in other sectors had increased proportionally.  The increase in requirements for agriculture was not the result of a rise in seed prices, but there was also a need for fertilizers and tillers, as well as animals to draw ploughs.  As the main economic activity for most people, agriculture inevitably took up the biggest portion of the Appeal.

Conceding that initial fears of a second wave of deaths from disease had not been borne out, he said they had been averted because of aid operations and the population’s resilience.  While the risks had not been overestimated, the help offered by monks and private groups had been underestimated.

Mr. Pitsuwan added that aid pouring in from neighbouring countries, especially from Thai monks, was another reason why a second wave of deaths had been avoided.  It was now a matter of trying to rebuild and building better.  Eighty per cent of the damaged houses were being rebuilt, but they needed sounder construction.  Schools had been rebuilt in a makeshift fashion and extended early-recovery activities were needed to address that problem.

He said it was not true that the relief operations had only gotten off the ground in early June.  The disaster had occurred on 2 and 3 May and the Flash Appeal had been launched on 9 May.  Relief efforts had already been under way at the launch of the Appeal, but they had been hampered by access difficulties which had been resolved by the end of May, due in part to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Myanmar.  Access was not being denied, but there were procedures to be followed.

Asked about the participation of experts, such as architects specialized in cyclone-resistant structures, he said that, during a round table meeting on 24 June, aid workers from the field had shared their findings with experts from such countries as Indonesia and Bangladesh who had experienced the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  Resistance to cyclones and flooding, as well as disaster-risk reduction, were part of longer-term planning.  “Build back better” was the motto.  There were now plans to build dikes to prevent salt water from entering the rice fields, for instance.

Mr. Baker added that the Government of Myanmar had asked for experts in disaster-mitigation management.  Several projects had been proposed, including the building of community centres where people could take shelter.

Asked about communication with the Government, he said there were daily communications and the Government’s cooperation with the United Nations was “quite good”.

Mr. Pitsuwan added that ASEAN had insisted on having access to the highest levels of Government, to which the Prime Minister had answered, “That is me.”  The Chairman of the Tripartite Core Group had been guaranteed full access to the highest authorities, and problems were being resolved one at a time.

In response to another question, Mr. Baker said it was true that the price of rental space had risen as a result of the presence of foreign relief workers and because the disaster had caused a shortage of housing.

Asked whether the Government was benefiting from the conversion of dollars into local currency (the kyat), he said kyats were bought at the market rate and it was his understanding that the Government was not benefiting from such purchases.  Sometimes there was an intermediary step called the “Foreign Exchange Certificates”, which were mostly bought at a-one-to-one ratio.

Responding to other questions, Mr. Baker said 739 visas had been issued to United Nations and non-governmental staff.  The death toll was based entirely on Government information, and now stood at about 85,000 with some 54,000 people missing.  The United Kingdom was one of the biggest donors, if not the biggest.  Mr. Holmes added that the United States was also a significant donor, with a contribution of $45 million.  It had also launched some 185 relief flights.

Asked whether ASEAN had taken a position regarding Myanmar’s constitutional referendum, Mr. Pitsuwan said the regional body had not yet taken a stand on that particular issue.  However, it had been successful up to now in opening up humanitarian space and hopefully could expand it.  Internal issues could be taken up later.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.