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'Aid falls far short of urgent needs'

world Updated: May 11, 2008 17:00 IST

Relief deliveries into cyclone-hit Myanmar increased on Sunday but aid groups said supplies fell far short of the enormous need and that foreign experts were still barred from the country.

"Some opening-up on the part of the (Myanmar) authorities is allowing us to get these materials to their destination," said Stephan Goetghebuer, director of operations of medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres.

"But it's no more than a drip-feed, really, given a serious response is more than required. We still need more back-up aid and personnel ready to leave," he added.

A cargo plane chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carrying 35 tons of aid was one of the latest to arrive.

The ICRC said the medical supplies on board were sufficient to treat some 250 trauma patients and provide three months of basic health care for 10,000 people.

The plane was also carrying sanitation equipment, including a mobile water-treatment plant to provide drinking water for 10,000 people, it said.

"Clearly our priority is to ensure victims of this terrible disaster access to clean drinking water, shelter, food and health care," said Pierre-Andre Conod, head of the ICRC's delegation in Myanmar.

"But you can't underestimate the significance of enabling a family to learn that their child is alive and well."

Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into the rice-growing Irrawaddy Delta region in the country's south on May 3, left 60,000 people dead or missing, according to an official toll.

The junta, deeply suspicious of the outside world, has refused to let in foreign experts who specialise in getting aid to disaster victims, and said that only the government would be allowed to distribute emergency supplies.

Its stance has infuriated aid groups and foreign governments who say that unless it opens its doors, the toll from the disaster will rise dramatically as hunger and disease set in.

"It's not true that nothing is happening at all, but not enough is happening," said Frank Smithuis, Myanmar country manager for MSF.

The medical charity said that a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of shelters, water-treatment equipment, first-aid supplies and food was en route from France.

A second plane, an Airbus A300 combining aid from MSF and the French Red Cross, was also due to depart, but remained grounded due to flyover restrictions applied by unnamed countries.

A second joint load was also scheduled to depart on Monday and MSF said a flight would leave Belgium on Sunday after having obtained landing authorisation from Yangon.

MSF said it was working overtime to have shipments ready as and when they receive green lights, with another plane also on standby in Jakarta for the coming days.

The international community has spoken out in increasingly concerned tones over Yangon's apparent sluggishness or suspicion when it comes to taking up offers of overseas and even non-governmental aid.

Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Saturday of their dismay at Myanmar's stance, with each having pressed the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

The UN has itself said that a week after Cyclone Nargis hit, only one-quarter of the victims have received any help at all, and it has called the relief effort "a race against time."

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on Sunday raised its aid pledge to 25 million dollars (23.5 million US), making it one of the biggest donors to the disaster in the country formally known as Burma.

"While the international community is responding well to the immense needs, if the Burmese regime were prepared to fully open its doors, a massive increase in delivery of humanitarian assistance would be possible," he said.