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UNHCR sends land aid convoy to Myanmar, airlift from Dubai starts

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UNHCR sends land aid convoy to Myanmar, airlift from Dubai starts

10 May 2008

Saturday, 10 May 2008

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency on Saturday sent the first UN land convoy of emergency aid into Myanmar from neighbouring Thailand, while its airlift of around 100 tonnes of urgently needed shelter supplies started from Dubai.

"This convoy marks a positive step in an aid effort so far marked by challenges and constraints," said Raymond Hall, UNHCR's Representative in Thailand. "We hope it opens up a possible corridor to allow more international aid to reach the cyclone victims."

UNHCR's convoy from Thailand is carrying more than 20 tonnes of tents and plastic sheets to some 10,000 people made homeless by the disaster last weekend.

"What we are sending in by road is in addition to the supplies we have already procured locally in Yangon and the 100 tonnes of supplies we started airlifting today from Dubai," Hall added.

From Mae Sot in north-western Thailand on Saturday, UNHCR's two-truck aid convoy crossed smoothly over the Friendship Bridge border into Myanmar at 1.07pm local time after a brief exchange of papers at the border. The trucks were met by UNHCR staff on the Myanmar side who, will supervise the re-loading onto Myanmar trucks and travel with the convoy to Yangon. The operation went without a hitch.

Meanwhile early Saturday, UNHCR started airlifting 100 metric tons of shelter supplies from its Dubai stockpile to Yangon. The first of the three planned flights, carrying 33 tonnes, left on a World Food Programme aircraft Saturday morning and is scheduled to arrive in Yangon at 6.12pm local time. UNHCR's two other flights are planned for early next week.

Saturday's flight carried 4,500 plastic sheets, 17,000 blankets and over 1000 kitchen sets.

The refugee agency is focusing on emergency shelter as part of joint UN efforts to help victims of last weekend's cyclone that devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta and parts of the main city Yangon. Among the casualties, more than one million people are estimated to have lost their homes.

In the immediate aftermath, UNHCR in Myanmar bought $50,000 worth of tarpaulin sheets, canned food and biscuits for distribution in the affected areas.

In neighbouring Thailand, it mobilised existing stockpiles of shelter materials meant for refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. UNHCR warehouses were emptied in Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son in north-western Thailand. The tents and plastic sheets were loaded Friday onto trucks and driven for many hours along winding mountain roads to reach the border town of Mae Sot late last night.

The goods could have been delayed in Mae Sot over the weekend as customs posts on both sides of the border are closed on weekends. However, UNHCR negotiated with government officials in Thailand and Myanmar to exceptionally open the customs posts to allow the supplies to enter Myanmar.

UNHCR's supplies will be handed over to the Disaster Management Committee to be distributed under UNHCR monitoring.

In the $187 million UN Flash Appeal for Myanmar launched in New York on Friday, UNHCR is asking donors for $6 million to provide 250,000 cyclone victims with shelter.