World

Canada donation helps speed up Burma aid

A Canadian donation is being praised for helping aid workers quickly access villagers in hard-to-reach parts of Burma's Irrawaddy delta still coping with the aftermath of last month's cyclone.

A Canadian donation is being praised for helping aid workers quickly access villagers in hard-to-reach parts of Burma's Irrawaddy delta still coping with the aftermath of last month's cyclone.

Until this week, the United Nations had only one helicopter operating in Burma to help the 2.4 million people the agency estimates were affected by Cyclone Nargis, said Paul Risley, spokesman for the World Food Program in Bangkok.

By Wednesday, the total number of choppers in Burma, also known as Myanmar, rose to 10. 

Canada paid the cost of shipping the helicopters to the impoverished Southeast Asian country and is also paying the leasing costs to keep several of them there, said Risley.

"The use of helicopters will greatly improve our ability to directly target specific villages and communities we know have been left off, that are remote, that have not received aid up until now," he said.

The UN helicopters, loaded with relief supplies, are able to reach parts of the delta previously cut off from regular aid.

Last week, the world agency's sole helicopter completed relief deliveries in the delta every day. But most supplies have been delivered by boats, which takes hours to travel short distances in the delta's network of waterways.

The UN estimates the May 2-3 cyclone killed more than 78,000 and affected 2.4 million, with more than one million still in need of help. More than 58,000 are still missing and unaccounted for.

The Burmese government has been quietly granting more visas to UN relief workers and the situation seems to be improving.

Meanwhile, some 250 experts from the UN, Burmese government and Southeast Asia are fanning out in the delta to conduct disaster assessments.

The teams will assess immediate needs of food, water and shelter, as well as longer-term ones such as new schools, housing and ways to revive the region's rice-based economy.

With files from the Canadian Press