ASEAN to handle foreign aid for Myanmar cyclone victims


Southeast Asia’s regional bloc will set up a task force to handle distribution of foreign aid for cyclone victims in Myanmar, which estimates losses from the killer storm will exceed $10 billion (Dh37bn), Singapore’s foreign minister said on Monday.

An emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations decided the bloc will work with the UN to hold a donor conference in Yangon on May 25, Minister George Yeo told reporters.

In a major concession after being slammed for blocking foreign aid, Myanmar also agreed to open its doors to medical teams from all ASEAN countries, Yeo said.

At least 134,000 people were killed or left missing in the May 2-3 cyclone, and another 2.5 million people are living in poor conditions, most of them without shelter, enough food, drinking water or medical care.

Yeo said the ministerial meeting, which included Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win, agreed to set up an ASEAN-led task force for redistributing foreign aid. ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan will go to Myanmar soon for planning.

“This mechanism will facilitate the effective distribution and utilization of assistance from the international community, including the expeditious and effective deployment of relief workers, especially health and medical personnel,” he told a news conference.

Each ASEAN country would send a team of 30 medical personnel into Myanmar “very soon”, with unrestricted movement in the country, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda. Thailand has already sent its team.

The Myanmar foreign minister told the meeting that losses from the cyclone are expected to be “well over US$10 billion”. The bloc hopes to raise funds for Myanmar at the May 25 meeting and will also work closely with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank on aid packages.

Yeo said Myanmar is also prepared to accept the expertise of international and regional agencies to help in its rehabilitation efforts.”

But this does not mean the junta will open its doors to foreign experts immediately, which aid agencies and the United Nations say is required immediately.

“There will not be an uncontrolled entry of foreign personnel into Myanmar.”

Aid agencies say millions of lives are at risk because Myanmar does not have the infrastructure, expertise and logistics to handle a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an editorial in the daily Le Monde on Monday that the UN Security Council would be guilty of “cowardice” if it does not force Myanmar to accept international aid.

But the ASEAN meeting rejected suggestions that foreign ships carrying aid make a forced entry into Myanmar

“That will create unnecessary complications. It will only lead to more suffering for Myanmar’s people,” Yeo said.