Myanmar’s blocking of aid access ‘unfathomable’: UN

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News Desk

The United Nations slammed today the Myanmar junta’s “unfathomable” decision to suspend travel authorisations for aid workers trying to reach more than a million people in cyclone-ravaged Rakhine state.

Cyclone Mocha brought lashing rain and winds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour to Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh last month, killing at least 148 people in Myanmar.

The cyclone destroyed homes and brought a storm surge to Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya minority refugees live in displacement camps following decades of ethnic conflict.

But despite the towering needs, the UN said last week that junta authorities had suspended “existing travel authorisations… for humanitarian organisations”.

“Four weeks into this disaster response and with the monsoon season well under way, it is unfathomable that humanitarians are being denied access to support people in need,” Ramanathan Balakrishnan, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said in a statement on Monday.

Since the cyclone hit on May 14, humanitarian workers have been getting aid to a growing number of people using limited travel authorisations granted to organisations with long-standing operations in Rakhine.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that more than 110,000 people had received shelter and other relief items during that time, while food assistance had reached almost 300,000 people in Rakhine thanks to those approvals.

He slammed the “effective ban” on access by humanitarian workers, “paralysing the distribution of life-saving food, drinking water, shelter supplies and other relief to affected communities.”

“We had plans and material relief available for distribution in the coming weeks and months for one million people in Rakhine alone. That has been stopped,” he said.

Last month, the UN launched an appeal for $333 million in emergency funding for the 1.6 million people in Myanmar it said were affected by the storm.

Laerke said the suspension also raised serious health concerns over possible disease outbreaks, “if we don’t have access and we don’t have the ability to first of all monitor, to survey what the situation is, and of course bring help”.

He called on the junta authorities “to reconsider this decision and re-instate the initial approval for aid distributions and transportation plans”.

Rakhine state is home to around 600,000 Rohingya, who are regarded by many there as interlopers from Bangladesh, and are denied citizenship and freedom of movement.

Most of the 148 people who died during the storm are from the minority, according to the junta.

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