EU to Hold Emergency Meeting on Aid to Burma | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.05.2008
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EU to Hold Emergency Meeting on Aid to Burma

The European Commission is due to meet Tuesday in Brussels to discuss responses to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burma following Cyclone Nargis.

A displaced Burmese woman fans her baby at a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Rangoon

Around 1.5 million survivors are waiting for aid

The scale of destruction and need caused by the cyclone was "massive," European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel said Monday ahead of the extraordinary meeting.

"The purpose of the meeting will be to review the situation and to beef up the response of the EU member states and the European Commission to this emergency situation," a statement from the commission said.

"The commission and the EU ministers will also try to identify and co-ordinate the best means of facilitating the mobilization and delivery of international humanitarian assistance."

European Union Commissioner for Development Louis Michel

European Union Commissioner for Development Louis Michel

Michel, who used to be Belgium's foreign minister, said he would travel to Burma directly after the meeting and talk to the government there.

"It is our sincere wish to work in close co-operation with the Burmese authorities to urgently alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people affected by the cyclone," Michel said.

Survivors still waiting for relief

Tuesday's meeting of EU development ministers comes amid a deteriorating situation in the Asian country.

Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into the rice-growing Irrawaddy Delta region in the country's south on May 3, has left nearly 62,000 people dead or missing, according to a government toll.

The military government's refusal to fully open its doors has infuriated aid groups and foreign governments who say that unless they have free access, the toll from the disaster will rise dramatically as hunger and disease set in. According to some estimates, around 1.5 million survivors are still waiting for assistance.

On Monday, the United States sent its first aid flight to Burma, but the government's resistance to outside expertise will likely result in slow, inefficient aid distribution. Ruling generals reiterated on Monday that foreign aid experts would not be put in charge of themission.

Delivery of relief goods can be handled by local organizations," said Economic Development Minister Soe Tha, quoted by the New Light of Myanmar newspaper -- the junta's state-run mouthpiece.

Aid experts frustrated by resistance

Aid groups have insisted the regime does not have the capacity to direct the relief operation in the delta, where diarrhea and other illnesses are starting to threaten survivors living in desperate conditions.

Other international aid flights have been increasing. A Red Cross spokesman said that nine of its planes will have reached the former Burmese capital of Rangoon by day's end. But aid groups stress that far more is needed.

"It's not true that nothing is happening at all, but not enough is happening," Frank Smithuis of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) told AFP.

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