U.N. helicopters loaded with relief supplies have reached several areas of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River delta that had been cut off from regular aid since a devastating cyclone five weeks ago, a World Food Program spokesman said Monday.
Four of the five aircraft that arrived over the weekend shuttled emergency supplies such as rice and water purification systems to villages, said Paul Risley, the spokesman.
More sites were expected to be reached today, he said.
United Nations officials and aid groups have criticized Myanmar’s military regime for restricting access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and materials for shelter from reaching survivors of the May 2-3 cyclone.
Aid groups say foreign relief workers still face hindrances in reaching cyclone survivors, especially outside Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
The U.N. previously had only one helicopter operating in Myanmar, and it flew six trips last week, Risley said. Most supplies were being delivered by boats that took hours to travel short distances in the delta’s network of waterways.
Risley said four more WFP-chartered helicopters in neighboring Thailand were expected to fly to Myanmar this week, bringing to 10 the U.N. agency’s total number of choppers in the country. But the relief effort still faces myriad problems, including a severe shortage of housing materials.
The U.N. estimates that Tropical Cyclone Nargis affected 2.4 million people and warns that more than 1 million of them, mostly in the delta, still need help. The cyclone killed more than 78,000 people in impoverished Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Myanmar’s military government has been criticized after reports that it evicted cyclone survivors from camps for the displaced, supposedly without adequate provisions. The government has issued angry denials in state-run media.