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UNHCR relief supplies on the move to Myanmar

UNHCR relief supplies on the move to Myanmar

UNHCR is using land, air and sea routes to send shelter materials and basic household supplies into Myanmar for desperate cyclone victims.
9 May 2008
UNHCR staff prepare emergency relief supplies in Kanchanburi, Thailand for shipment to Myanmar.

GENEVA, 9 May (UNHCR) - Emergency shelter and basic household supplies from UNHCR's stockpiles in Thailand started moving towards Myanmar on Friday as part of a cross-border land convoy.

"In response to the emergency, we're looking at different aid delivery routes, said Giuseppe de Vicentis, UNHCR's deputy representative in Bangkok. "This weekend's road convoy could be the first by the UN and we are very encouraged by the cooperation from authorities on both sides of the border."

UNHCR has pulled emergency supplies of plastic sheeting and tents from three stockpiles in Thailand to provide shelter for around 10,000 cyclone victims. The relief items are usually reserved for nine border refugee camps.

It will take up to 18 hours for some of the aid to be moved by truck to the central gathering point of Mae Sot, where UNHCR has a base, before heading across the border in one convoy.

Conditions along the route from the Myanmar border town of Myawadi to the country's largest city, Yangon, had been a cause of some concern, with the journey expected initially to take up to 10 days. But on Friday, it appeared the convoy might reach Yangon in the early part of the week.

"We are seeking all possible means to send urgent shelter material and household supplies to victims of the recent cyclone in Myanmar," Jennifer Pagonis, UNHCR's spokeswoman in Geneva told journalists on Friday.

An airlift of 57 tonnes of emergency shelter from UNHCR's major stockpile in Dubai is being organized. The first load of 32 tonnes of aid cargo - mainly shelter materials such as plastic sheeting, blankets and kitchen sets - was set to be transported on a World Food Programme (WFP) aircraft.

But this could be affected by WFP's announcement on Friday that it was suspending aid shipments to Myanmar after the government impounded supplies flown in on two aircraft.

A further 25 tonnes of supplies UNHCR supplies are expected to be airlifted over the weekend on a joint charter flight with UNICEF. The UNHCR airlift will provide shelter materials for around 22,000 people.

More than a million people are estimated to have been left homeless by the powerful cyclone which slammed into Myanmar's southern regions.

The distribution of UNHCR's humanitarian aid inside Myanmar to the cyclone victims will be handled by the Myanmar government's Disaster Management Committee and the Myanmar Red Cross.

"We are trying to establish a phased pipeline," said Lim. "We hope to have the bulk of the humanitarian aid arriving by air, as it is normally the speediest means available, then the arrival of the goods by road from Thailand, followed by more shelter aid being shipped into the country from our Dubai stockpile."

UNHCR is focusing on emergency shelter as part of joint UN efforts in cyclone-hit Myanmar. In the UN Flash Appeal, which was scheduled to be launched later Friday in New York, the refugee agency will ask donors for US$6 million to meet the immediate shelter and household needs of 250,000 victims of the disaster. In the meantime, UNHCR is releasing funds from its own reserves.

UNHCR has around 70 staff working in Myanmar, mainly in the north-west of the country in North Rakhine state, some of whom are being deployed to help with the cyclone relief effort.