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Aid agencies up pressure on Myanmar

Aid agencies struggling to reach 2 million cyclone survivors upped the pressure on Myanmar to allow in help to save the needy, as UN chief toured the country.

world Updated: May 22, 2008 14:18 IST

Aid agencies struggling to reach two million cyclone survivors upped the pressure on Myanmar on Thursday to allow in help to save the needy, as UN chief Ban Ki-moon toured the impoverished country.

Myanmar's ruling generals have shocked the world with their refusal of most foreign help despite the enormity of the disaster, which left more than 133,000 people dead or missing and about 2.4 million in need of food, shelter and aid.

Jemilah Mahmood, president of humanitarian group Mercy Malaysia, said only 25 percent of those in need had received international aid.

"That's not good enough," she told a a press conference in Bangkok.

"There needs to be more equipment, there needs to be more flights coming in. there needs to be more boats out there to reach the more remote areas."

The first of 10 helicopters contracted by the UN's World Food Programme arrived in Myanmar on Thursday to help speed relief to remote villages hit by Cyclone Nargis, WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said.

Aid workers from many of the key groups working with cyclone survivors said that the amount of relief supplies getting in to Myanmar and visa approvals for staff were improving, but not quickly enough.

"We need more people to do more work. The scale of the work is immense," said Richard Rumsey, regional emergencies director with World Vision.

Ban is hoping to convince the junta to open up to more foreign aid, despite similar missions by the United Nations aid chief, the Thai prime minister and the European Union aid commissioner all ending with few results.

"We as the international community really hope that he will be able to push the humanitarian imperative, and in doing that open more channels for aid to come through, more channels for people to come through," Mahmood said.

As pressure mounted on Myanmar to take the action needed to save thousands of lives, the junta on Monday agreed to let the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) lead an aid push.

ASEAN and the United Nations will also hold an international donors conference in Yangon on Sunday, which many relief workers are pinning their hopes on, especially in the absence of any other signs of a breakthrough.

"A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Myanmar," said Sarah Ireland, regional director for British aid group Oxfam.

"The aid bridge that ASEAN has begun to create into Myanmar must rapidly become a highway wide enough to meet the needs of the people in the hardest hit areas," she added.

The aid groups said, however, that none of them had been invited to give their input at Sunday's conference.