/ 21 July 2008

Burma cyclone aid to cost $1bn over three years

Rebuilding Burma’s cyclone-devastated south and bringing aid to millions of survivors will cost $1-billion over the next three years, the United Nations and Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) said on Monday.

A joint report by the UN, the 10-member South-East Asian bloc and the Burma government said the priorities were providing food, restoring agriculture and basic services, and helping communities rebuild and recover their livelihoods.

”Recovery needs … are estimated at just over a total of $1-billion over the next three years,” it said.

The report outlined the scale of the Burma’s worst-ever disaster, which damaged or destroyed 800 000 homes, flooded 600 000ha of agricultural land and killed half the draught animals used to plough fields.

About 4 000 schools were wiped out in the cyclone, which drove a massive storm surge into the coast, and about 75% of hospitals and clinics were destroyed or badly damaged.

By mid-June, more than half of the cyclone survivors had no more than one day of food stocks in hand, leaving them extremely vulnerable, it said.

”While significant progress has been made to date, we are still in the relief phase of this aid operation,” said UN humanitarian chief John Holmes.

Endorsing the report as a ”credible and comprehensive assessment”, he said he hoped it would encourage the international community to fund the massive recovery programme.

”A key request put forward by donors … was that there should be full access and that there should be a credible assessment on the table. I think both these things are now in place,” he said.

Burma’s ruling generals drew international outrage by refusing to allow a foreign-led aid response in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which hit on May 2 leaving 138 000 people dead or missing.

Asean was initially criticised for not doing enough to pressure its military-run member to open its doors.

But the bloc’s work since then to bridge the gap between the secretive junta and the international aid community, and send in hundreds of foreign experts, has won over many of the critics.

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said on Monday that the crisis had challenged Asean’s unity, but that the bloc passed the test by successfully leading the international relief effort.

”Just as we could not ignore political developments in Burma, neither could we stand aside from this humanitarian crisis when so many lives had been lost and many more remained at risk,” he said at the group’s annual talks.

”While many difficulties still lie ahead, Asean played an important role in bridging the gap of trust between the Burma government and international organisations like the UN and World Bank.”

The tripartite process with the UN and the Burma junta was ”far from perfect”, but the situation was clearly better than if Asean had not intervened to persuade the ruling generals to cooperate, he said.

With many of the estimated two million victims still in urgent need of assistance, Lee said that much remained to be done and that only the international community was able to carry out the enormous task. — AFP