An helicopter being guided for landing on USS Essex in the Andaman Sea off Myanmar. The Essex and other US Navy ships are participating in a joint task force for relief and are standing by off the coast of Myanmar ready with supplies. (AFP)
Yangon, May 18 (Reuters): A breakthrough could be near on a framework to open up aid to the millions needing help after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmars Irrawaddy delta early this month, Britains Asia minister said today.
Aid has been trickling in for the 2.5 million people affected by the cyclone, with Myanmars military rulers, suspicious of the outside world, reluctant to admit major foreign operations and the workers to run them.
But Britains Asia minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, said a framework was being set up for a UN and Asian-led operation that could solve the impasse.
I think were potentially at a turning point, but like all turning points in (Myanmar), the corner will have a few S-bends in it, he said.
Thousands of children could die within weeks if food does not get to them soon, non-government aid organisation Save the Children said today.
The World Food Programme (WFP), leading the outside emergency food effort, said it had managed to get rice and beans to 212,000 of the 750,000 people it thinks are most in need after the May 2 storm, which left at least 134,00 dead or missing.
Malloch-Brown said the UN estimates that so far help has reached less than 25 per cent of the people in need.
But now, he said: Im confident weve got movement here in the sense weve diplomatically found an answer to the stand-off.
In the last 50 years, only two Asian cyclones have exceeded Nargis in terms of human cost a 1970 storm that killed 500,000 people in neighbouring Bangladesh, and another that killed 143,000 in 1991, also in Bangladesh.
If the reclusive military government still refuses to open its doors to a large-scale tsunami-style aid operation, disaster experts say Nargiss body count could still climb dramatically.
Other countries have urged the former Burma to give aid workers and mercy flights more access.
Malloch-Brown came to Yangon after first visiting some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members, and in Myanmar has seen a succession of senior officials.
He described a process that has begun with Asian nations Myanmar considers friendly sending aid teams into the country, and the presence of an Asean assessment team on the ground.
That team is due to report to a meeting of foreign ministers from the Asean, of which Myanmar is a member, in Singapore on Monday.
These would be steps along the way to an Asian-UN led operation into which other countries would channel their efforts.
We can be relieved today two weeks after the cyclone that theres finally emerging a model of cooperation that could work, Malloch-Brown said.
UN chief humanitarian officer John Holmes was due in Yangon later today. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has previously proposed a high-level pledging conference to deal with the crisis as well as having a joint coordinator from the UN and the Asean to oversee aid delivery.
However, junta supremo Than Shwe has refused to talk to Ban on the phone since the cyclone.
France has accused the junta of being on the verge of a crime against humanity, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has condemned the generals sluggish response as inhuman, and there has been talk of bringing in aid without Myanmars permission.