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Australia increases Myanmar aid to $23.5 million

Australia on Sunday lifted humanitarian aid for cyclone-devastated Myanmar to 25 million dollars (23.5 million US), making it one of the biggest donors to the disaster.

world Updated: May 11, 2008 10:05 IST

Australia on Sunday lifted humanitarian aid for cyclone-devastated Myanmar to 25 million dollars (23.5 million US), making it one of the biggest donors to the disaster which has killed tens of thousands.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia was doing "everything possible" to ensure that aid reached those affected by the storm which has left up to two million survivors short of food and water.

"A total contribution of 12.5 million dollars will be made to the United Nations Flash Appeal, matching Japan and the United Kingdom as some of the highest donors to the fund," Smith said in a statement.

"In addition, Australia will provide 12.5 million dollars directly through international agencies and non-government organisations with the ability to deliver assistance quickly and effectively on the ground in the worst-affected areas."

The aid package includes the initial 3.0 million dollars pledged by Australia shortly after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar just over a week ago.

On Friday the UN launched an emergency appeal for 187 million dollars to help the cyclone victims in the military-ruled nation formerly known as Burma.

Japan has pledged 10 million dollars while Britain is providing five million pounds (10 million dollars) in immediate aid, to be channelled via the United Nations and various charities.

Smith said the greatest challenge to saving the lives of those left hungry and homeless by the storm was Myanmar's ruling military junta which has refused to allow access to international aid workers.

"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.

Myanmar's ruling junta has refused to allow foreign experts who specialise in getting aid to disaster victims into the country despite the scale of the disaster and aid groups say it has held up delivery of critical supplies.

The United Nations has said that a week after Cyclone Nargis hit, only one-quarter of the victims had received any help at all, and described the relief effort as "a race against time".

Smith said Australia was continuing to work with the international community to pressure the regime to open up "so that the urgent needs of the Burmese people can be met."

"It's become clear... that we are dealing with a human tragedy on a mammoth scale," Smith told reporters in Perth.

"It is beyond the capacity of any one nation state to deal with."

Australia will send food, water and tarpaulins as well as water purification, sanitation and health kits, Smith said.

"It's now quite clear, unless there's urgent assistance on the ground, that there's the danger that a lack of clean water would lead to the spread of diseases," he said.

"So we won't just have the initial terrible impact of the cyclone."

Smith said any political differences between Australia, a vocal critic of Myanmar's lack of progress towards democracy, paled in significance in comparison with the stark situation facing cyclone survivors.

But he said a referendum on a draft constitution for Myanmar, which he said went ahead Saturday without incident, should have been cancelled completely rather than just delayed until May 24 in the worst-hit areas.

"Australia regards the referendum system as nothing more, nothing less than a sham," Smith said.

Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into the rice-growing Irrawaddy Delta region in the country's south, left 60,000 people dead or missing.

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