I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 113 together.
Even now, the full extent of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis is not known. Estimates suggest that more than two million people were affected. Official figures put the death toll at 78,000 people, while a further 56,000 are reported missing. Unofficial estimates suggest that the death toll may be higher.
The initial reaction of the ruling military regime was to refuse access to UN and NGO international humanitarian experts. Ireland was to the fore in calling for full and free access to the affected areas of relief supplies and workers. Irish embassies in neighbouring countries made representations seeking their assistance in gaining access for the international relief effort.
The EU Presidency convened a special emergency meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, at which the Council expressed its deep concern at the situation; its full support for the work of the UN Secretary General and his special representative and appealed for free and unfettered access for international humanitarian experts. The Council also expressed support for the visit to the region by the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel.
The intervention of the UN Secretary General, which had the full support of the EU, coupled with pressure from neighbouring countries, which form part of the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, resulted in some softening in the attitude of the regime. At a Donor Conference in Yangon on 25 May, where Ireland was represented by our Ambassador to Malaysia, a tripartite core group, composed of representatives of the Government of Burma, ASEAN and the UN, was established to oversee the co-ordination of relief assistance.
Subsequent to that agreement, access for UN officials appears to have improved although access for international NGOs continues to be restricted, particularly in the case of those NGOs which had not previously operated in Burma. It is now estimated that some 1.3 million people have been reached by the UN, Red Cross and NGOs. Ireland pledged an initial €1 million for the emergency relief effort. We also provided two airlifts of essential humanitarian supplies from our pre-positioned emergency stockpiles in Brindisi, Italy and, most recently, from our stockpile in the Curragh. The funding has been disbursed among established NGO partners of Irish Aid each of which had operations in Burma-Myanmar prior to the cyclone. In addition, we are providing a small grant for the transmission in local languages of essential health messages.