Fresh cyclone threats worry Myanmar

YANGON - The 1,5million people left destitute by Myanmar's devastating cyclone were increasingly desperate yesterday as foreign aid remained at a trickle and overstretched aid workers struggled to reach hard-hit areas.

YANGON - The 1,5million people left destitute by Myanmar's devastating cyclone were increasingly desperate yesterday as foreign aid remained at a trickle and overstretched aid workers struggled to reach hard-hit areas.

Reports that a tropical depression was swirling southwest of Yangon, and a US advisory that it could develop into a cyclone in the next 24 hours, sparked concerns of a new tragedy after the early May storm that left up to 100000 people dead or missing in the Irrawaddy delta.

"It's terrible," Amanda Pitt, spokesman for the UN's humanitarian affairs office, told a news conference in Bangkok.

"This is always another worry when you have a major disaster - that you have further hazards affecting people."

But AR Subbiah, director for the climate risk management team at the UN's Bangkok-based Asia Disaster Preparedness Centre, said: "It is part of the monsoon system. Nothing to worry about. It is very unlikely to develop into some kind of Nargis."

Meanwhile, in a gesture to critics who say outside aid is critical, Myanmar's reclusive military rulers invited 160 personnel from neighbouring Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand to assist in delayed and sometimes chaotic relief efforts.

But that is a fraction of the thousands of foreign aid workers needed for a "tsunami-style" international aid operation.

"It's just awful. People are in just desperate need, begging as vehicles go past," Gordon Bacon, an emergency coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, said from Yangon.

Thailand's prime minister flew to Myanmar's main city of Yangon yesterday to try to persuade Prime Minister Thein Sein to let more foreign experts into the pulverised areas.

Samak Sundaravej is hoping for more luck than UN and Western officials, whose efforts have had little success.

Some have suggested food and other urgent supplies may have been diverted by Myanmar's ruling junta rather than going straight to helpless victims, many homeless and some barefoot.

But a World Food Programme spokesman in Bangkok said of high-energy food it had sent: "We collected the biscuits at Yangon airport and they remain in our possession."

In any case, experts said the relief effort - further complicated by heavy rains and the threat of a possible second cyclone - is only delivering a tenth of the supplies needed. -Reuters

X