WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank is supporting efforts by Southeast Asian nations to coordinate international aid for cyclone-hit Myanmar and is ready to deploy teams to do damage assessments, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Sarah Cliffe, director of World Bank operations for East Asia and the Pacific, told Reuters the immediate focus of the international community was to get humanitarian supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis that struck two weeks ago, leaving nearly 134,000 people dead or missing.
Historically, the military government in the country formerly known as Burma has been suspicious of foreign interference and has said it won’t allow Western aid unfettered access to disaster areas.
There have been diplomatic efforts led by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and United Nations to prod the junta to allow more international aid into the country. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is to visit Myanmar on Wednesday.
The government has put economic losses from the cyclone at around $10 billion. A donor conference organized by the ASEAN and the United Nations in Yangon on May 25 will focus on longer-term rebuilding of the country.
“We have been working to help support ASEAN in getting this ASEAN-led agreement in place with the government of Myanmar so that relief supplies, that are already waiting to be distributed, can get to the people who haven’t been reached,” Cliffe said.
She said an ASEAN team was currently in Myanmar assessing damage from the cycle and the bank would probably conduct a more comprehensive, longer-term assessment.
“We have teams ready from our disaster recovery experts who have worked in Aceh (province of Indonesia) in the aftermath of the tsunami and other situations around the region and have them ready for immediate deployment as soon as there is an agreement that we could assess the damage,” Cliffe added.
The World Bank said in a statement Myanmar had not requested financial assistance from the development lender to deal with effects of the cyclone.
Earlier in Singapore, World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub said the bank could not authorize financial assistance because Myanmar had not serviced its World Bank debt since 1998.
Under bank rules, the development institution is unable to provide funding to countries that have fallen behind on their debt payments.
However, exceptions have been made for Haiti and Liberia to receive World Bank grant funding for immediate reconstruction needs, while they settled their overdue debts and implemented economic programs.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton;