27 May 2008


27 May 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Some $133 million in contributions and a further $100 million in pledges had been raised in support of relief efforts for victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar early in May, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at Headquarters today.

At a press conference where he briefed correspondents on his recent trip to Myanmar, Mr. Holmes said the figures reflected contributions and pledges from all sources as shown by the financial tracking service.  It included the United Nations Flash Appeal, which had generated $75 million in contributions and $44 million in pledges, amounting to 60 per cent of the $201 million sought.  Despite the very short notice for the International Pledging Conference held in Yangon on Sunday, the turnout had been good, with 51 countries represented and a good selection of ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries in addition to others from some European countries.

The Conference had been a success, reflecting a reasonably positive attitude, clear and strong unity of purpose and recognition of the magnitude of the disaster, he said.  There was a clear determination to scale up the emergency relief effort in order to ensure that those most in need were reached.  While the Pledging Conference had resulted in financial pledges running into tens of millions of dollars, however, there had been some reservations on the part of donors who wished to be sure the relief operation would be as effective as they thought it should.  They were also concerned about cooperation from the Myanmar authorities and about having a true picture of humanitarian needs on the ground.

Explaining the reason for his trip, Mr. Holmes said his team was seeking acceptance by the Myanmar authorities of the idea that the operation was still very much in the relief phase and not simply a matter of recovery and development.  The key issues were access for international relief workers, both through the issuance of entry visas and the ability to reach the affected areas of the Irrawaddy Delta; the possibility of more non-governmental organizations going to work there; the use of extra relief from outside to supplement what the Government already had in place; and the need to set up better logistical arrangements for the arrival and distribution of aid.

He said his team had managed to make some progress in all those areas, particularly in terms of the agreement reached between the Secretary-General and Senior General Than Shwe on Friday.  The key in that agreement was ensuring the promises made would actually be turned into reality on the ground.  Meetings with the authorities had also dwelt on the establishment of good coordination mechanisms.  The main point was to ensure that the national relief effort was fully coordinated with the international relief effort managed through United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations so that each side would know what the other was doing in more detail than had been the case so far.  The idea was to have the Government, the United Nations and the humanitarian system, encompassing non-governmental organizations and ASEAN as a sort of tripartite mechanism, meet regularly and discuss the issue.  An overarching ASEAN task force set up to look at the issues was expected to function as a bridge between the international community and the Myanmar Government.

Regarding the situation on the ground, Mr. Holmes announced that visas were now beginning to come through in larger numbers for international staff of both the United Nations and the non-governmental organization community.  Those staff members were beginning to get into the affected areas and technicians, for instance, had been able to install and run water treatment plants.  However, there was still a long way to go and the United Nations was still trying to work out the right mechanisms and clearance procedures for international relief staff to go in.

He said about 160 aid flights had arrived in Myanmar at the rate of about
10-15 a day but more materials were still needed, not only by air but also by land and sea routes.  The critical question for the United Nations concerned how many people had not been reached and what sort of conditions they were in.  While the Organization could not give a clear answer to that question, it was estimated that just over a million people had been reached out of the 2.4 million estimated to have been badly affected.  The Government had mounted a national relief effort, using all the bilateral assistance received directly.  Because many people had still not received anything, the relief effort must be stepped up to ensure that everyone was being reached.  A lot of the people reached were in the Yangon division, which had been less affected than the delta region, which was why there was a need to reach people there.

Mr. Holmes noted that some people were in official camps, informal settlements, monasteries and local school buildings.  The concern of the United Nations was to ensure that, if they decided to return home at any stage, it would be a purely voluntary operation done in full consultation with the people themselves.  To the extent possible, they should not simply be pushed back to their homes before they were ready.

In response to a question, he said he could not estimate accurately the number of relief workers waiting for entry visas, but significant numbers of visas were now being granted.  As of last week, about 40 visas had been granted, but that number had now more than doubled.  Several individuals from WFP [World Food Programme], as well as significant numbers from UNICEF, were already in Myanmar and they were all able to move around in the country, although there was a procedure to notify the authorities.

He responded to another question by saying that, so far, there had been no reported cases of disease breaking out as a result of the cyclone.  However, diarrhoeal diseases had been found in a few places, but they were being monitored extremely carefully.  The flow of drugs in the country was reasonably good although much of the health infrastructure in the delta area had been destroyed.

Answering another question, he said the authorities had shown great sensitivity about accepting aid directly from certain uniformed entities such as naval vessels from the United States, France and the United Kingdom, which were waiting nearby.  However, no restrictions on access had been imposed on the United Nations.

There was a lot of concern about children, particularly those orphaned or separated from their parents, he went on.  A task force comprising UNICEF, Save the Children, the local department of social welfare and one other organization had been set up to tackle that problem.

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