UNHCR offers immediate assistance to Myanmar cyclone victims
GENEVA, May 6 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday was preparing emergency aid in Thailand for swift dispatch to some 10,000 desperate victims of this weekend's devastating cyclone in southern Myanmar.
"Our response to this disaster was immediate. In [Myanmar's biggest city] Yangon on Monday, we purchased and distributed US$50,000 worth of basic supplies to help the victims of this disaster and now we are emptying our stockpiles of emergency supplies in Thailand to send to Myanmar as soon as possible," Janet Lim, director of UNHCR's Asia Bureau, said in Geneva on Tuesday.
The plastic sheeting and tents - sufficient for 10,000 people - will be sent to Yangon from Thailand by the fastest available means as a first response to aid the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes. The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis, which hit Saturday, has risen to more than 20,000 people.
The UNHCR supplies will be distributed through a Disaster Management Committee that has been established by the Myanmar government. The aid purchased in Myanmar on Monday included emergency tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and canned food.
"It's clear that this has been a devastating natural disaster. What aid agencies need now is a much fuller assessment of the scale of the damage to tailor the response to the needs of the people," Lim said. UNHCR is participating in the joint UN emergency response effort in Myanmar with particular attention initially on the shelter sector.
"UNHCR already has some 70 staff in Myanmar and we would redeploy them if necessary to help out with the joint UN relief effort," Lim added. Of the agency's staff in Myanmar, 28 are based in the north-western state of North Rakhine, which did not suffer severe damage, although it experienced strong winds.
UNHCR's office in Yangon suffered minor storm damage during the cyclone but is now fully functional.