UNHCR poised to truck relief supplies to Myanmar from Thailand
GENEVA, May 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is poised to deliver 22 tonnes of emergency relief supplies to Myanmar through the border crossing from Mae Sot in north-west Thailand.
"We are working closely with the Myanmar authorities to get our relief supplies into Myanmar by road from Thailand and we are also exploring sending more emergency shelter materials - mainly plastic sheeting and tarpaulins - to [the Myanmar city of] Yangon by air from Dubai," Janet Lim, director of UNHCR's Asia Pacific Bureau, said in Geneva on Wednesday.
Plastic sheets and tents sufficient to provide shelter for 10,000 people are slated for shipment from Thailand.
UNHCR's emergency relief stocks in Thailand are located near the nine refugee camps strung out along the lengthy border with Myanmar. The supplies are being readied for dispatch to the central gathering point of Mae Sot, where UNHCR has a base, before being trucked across the border for onward delivery to areas in Myanmar where cyclone victims are urgently in need of shelter.
"We are awaiting confirmation of exactly when the trucks carrying the aid can get across the border, and it may take time to reach Yangon, but we will be moving as fast as possible," said Lim. The UNHCR supplies will be distributed through a Disaster Management Committee that has been established by the Myanmar government.
Although the UN refugee agency is not usually involved in natural disaster relief operations, it has responded to the cyclone crisis because of the scale of the devastation, the urgent needs of the victims, and the proximity of its emergency relief supplies to Myanmar. UNHCR is part of the joint UN emergency response to the cyclone.
The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on Saturday, is now more than 20,000 people with some 40,000 missing. An estimated one million people are homeless.
"The scale of the devastation is enormous and the full extent of the damage is still unknown," said Lim. "UNHCR will respond within the limits of its capacity and resources as part of the joint UN response. We have 70 staff in the country, mainly working in areas unaffected by this cyclone, and some of them will need to be redeployed to help with our emergency response."
On Monday, as a rapid initial response to the crisis, the UNHCR office in Yangon purchased and distributed $50,000 of plastic sheeting and canned food to cyclone victims.