Aid Workers Begin to Reach Hardest-Hit Regions of Myanmar

As foreign relief workers begin to filter into the Irrawaddy Delta region of Myanmar, aid agencies are trying to determine whether the ruling military junta will keep its promise to support a major international effort to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis, the Washington Post reports.

After three weeks of barring foreign aid workers from the delta, where many of the 2.5 million survivors of the cyclone remain in need of food, clean water, shelter, and medical care, Myanmar's army chief, Senior General Than Shwe, told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday that "genuine" humanitarian workers could join the relief effort.

To date, UNICEF, the UN World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders have each received permission to send a handful of international staff members to work in the region. The government, however, continues to refuse to allow U.S., French, and British naval vessels carrying large quantities of relief supplies to enter the country. The junta also is reportedly turning away aid workers who attempt to enter the delta without official permission.

Despite recent setbacks, including a fire Monday morning at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, where many aid workers are awaiting visas to enter the country, aid agencies are cautiously optimistic about their prospects. Their presence in Myanmar is all the more important, they say, because Burmese government aid workers, who have been running the relief effort for the last three weeks, are overstretched.

"The initial indications are that international staff are able to get out and things are looking quite positive," Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the UN disaster relief office in Bangkok, told the New York Times. "But before celebrating, we should keep an eye on it."

Seth Mydans. "A Few Aid Workers Reach Into Myanmar." New York Times 05/28/2008. Amy Kazmin. "Foreign Relief Workers Arrive in Burmese Delta." Washington Post 05/27/2008.