Thursday, May 15, 2008

Burmese officials selling emergency aid supplies in local markets

Burmese officials selling emergency aid supplies in local markets

Officials in Burma's cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta area are appropriating emergency aid supplies and selling them in local markets, it was claimed on Monday.

Burmese volunteers who are operating their own private aid missions to the area have said that they are having to hide from local apparatchiks in order to prevent them commandeering their aid and selling it on at markets.

The Telegraph learned of the alleged scam from a Burmese businessman from Rangoon, who was leading one of dozens of private relief missions distributing supplies of rice, biscuits and clothing around the flood-hit delta area on Monday.

The volunteers had covered the back of their pick up truck with a tarpaulin so that local officials could not see what they were doing.

"If they see our relief supplies, they will come over and say 'don’t worry, give that to us, we will distribute it for you',” he said.

"But we know that for every ten sacks of rice we give them, only four will reach the people.

"The other six will end up being sold by that official on a market in some local town. Rice prices are very high right now and that official will then make a good profit.

On the outskirts of the more storm-damaged regions, checkpoints had sprung up overnight, where police and immigration officials were banning any foreigners - including aid workers - from entering the area.

"We have orders to turn all foreigners around," said one official.

"That includes even workers from the ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross]."

The secretive junta has already been condemned for refusing to allow in foreign aid experts to oversee the distribution of the massive aid effort, claiming that it alone is best equipped to deal to do so.

But on Monday, during a three-hour drive through the water-logged delta area, not a single village had received government aid.

The first American military aid flight was among a handful allowed to land in Rangoon yesterday. It was met with an ambiguous pledge by Burma’s leaders to deliver its cargo of water, mosquito nets and blankets “as soon as possible”.

The US intensified pressure on the regime on Monday, sending three naval ships towards the Burmese coast.

Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of the US Pacific Command, arrived in Rangoon on the aid flight to urge the Burmese leadership to allow a "long, continuous train of flights".

A French warship is also expected to arrive this week, carrying 1,500 tons of rice that France said it wants to distribute directly to survivors.

The United Nations confirmed a US estimate that more than 100,000 people had perished when Cyclone Nargis crashed into Burma 10 days ago, adding that more than 200,000 people were still unaccounted for.

The Burmese leader General Than Shwe would not accept a telephone call from Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Ban expressed "immense frustration" at the "unacceptably slow" response by Burma and demanded immediate action as the threat of starvation and disease threaten the delta region, where heavy rains are forecast this week.

Gordon Brown urged the Burmese authorities to give "unfettered access" to humanitarian agencies. He said that HMS Westminster was heading for Burma to help humanitarian operations.

"We now estimate that two million people face famine or disease as a result of the lack of co-operation of the Burmese authorities. This is completely unacceptable," he said.

Britain has pledged £5 million in assistance and aid agencies have raised another £5 million.

A British Government official said the UK was ready to at least match an Australian pledge of about £10.5 million in aid funds.

Most Cyclone Victims 'Children


Situation Update No. 45

Myanmar (Burma) - Tropical Storm on 2008-05-02 at 16:52:43 TC-20080502-16580-MMR

Situation Update No. 45

On 2008-05-14 at 03:44:29 [UTC]

Tropical Storm
Myanmar (Burma) Southern area


A total of 34,273 people have been killed in Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster to hit the region since the 2004 tsunami, the country's state television announced on Tuesday. Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on May 3 devastating large parts of the country with over 27,000 people still unaccounted for. The UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, John Holmes, however, said up to 2 million people have been 'severely' affected and put the death toll at "between 63,000 and 100,000, or possibly even higher." A state of emergency has been introduced in the five worst-hit areas - the Irrawaddy delta, the cities of Yangon and Pegu, and the states of Karen and Mon. Most of the deaths have been in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region. The UN, governments and international relief agencies said aid has begun to trickle through to the disaster-hit country, but many organizations have reported that distribution is being delayed by the military authorities, who are reluctant to permit foreigners into the worst-hit areas. British aid group, Oxfam said the death toll could hit 1.5 million if disease broke out and people did not get access to clean water. The situation in the disaster-stricken country is extremely dangerous and the risk of epidemic is very high due to unsanitary conditions caused by rotting carcasses and corpses across the region.

Number of Deads:
34273 persons
Number of Injured persons:
1383 persons
Number of Missing persons:
42119 persons
Number of Evacuated persons:
1500000 persons


Eyeing Hot Weather, Hurricanes, Gas Prices Could Test Records

U.S. natural gas prices could move closer toward record highs this summer if gas inventories don't grow substantially over the next several weeks.

As in past years, gas prices will take their cue this summer from the weather, particularly the length and intensity of heat in key consuming areas of the U.S. Midwest and East and whether one or more tropical storms or hurricanes do any damage in the energy producing U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of people are looking at natural gas to take out the all-time high this summer or early fall," said Mario Chavez, a broker at UBS Securities in New York. The looming hurricane season, a recent loss of supply from the U.S. Gulf and a drop in LNG imports have been keeping gas prices near $11/MMBtu, he said, still well off a record high north of $15.

Supply also matters. Late winter weather and strong gas demand this year, along with supply constraints, a drop in overseas imports and overall strength across commodities markets have helped push up natural gas prices 51% in the year to date.

Rising prices for crude oil in particular have pressured gas prices higher. Natural gas at times trades in step with oil and refined products, both because it can sometimes be used as a substitute for oil and as weakness in the dollar or in the equities market spurs overall demand for commodities.

Gas price spikes mean higher electricity prices, which would hit businesses and consumers still grappling with record gasoline prices.

Natural gas futures for June delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange were trading Thursday at about $10.52 a million British thermal units, down 32 cents, after government data were released showing a larger-than-expected build in U.S. gas stocks last week of 86 billion cubic feet.

Private weather forecasters Earthsat MDA and Planalytics are predicting normal summer temperatures in the Midwest, Northeast and much of the U.S., with cooler weather than the last few summers. The National Weather Service forecasts above-normal temperatures for part of the Northeast, the southern Rockies and the desert Southwest, but hasn't predicted summer weather in the Midwest, Texas and other regions.

While gas market participants see the normal-weather forecasts as an indication that demand for gas-fired generation for cooling could be lackluster, they're also watching inventory levels, which are slightly below average and well below the surplus at this time last year.

Hurricane Quotient

Forecasters at the University of Colorado and elsewhere are calling for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year, with more tropical storms than average and a better-than-average chance they'll make landfall in the U.S. Hurricane season, between early June and late November, peaks between early August and late October.

The most recent active season was in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through the Gulf of Mexico. Nymex front-month gas futures reached their all-time high settlement price of $15.378/MMBtu that December. Gas prices are seen returning to that level in the event of a destructive tropical storm or a lengthy heat wave in the Midwest and East.

A weather condition called the "Bermuda High" expected this summer could nudge one or more Atlantic hurricanes to U.S. shores, said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics in Philadelphia.

The Bermuda High is a large group of storms near Bermuda and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. It could also bring a longer summer to the Northeast, keeping hot, humid weather in the region through early September, Rouiller predicted.

"Along with that hot, humid weather comes the threat of hurricanes," Rouiller said.

Strong cooling demand that extends into fall would cut into the amount of gas in storage available for use next winter. At 1.37 trillion cubic feet, U.S. gas inventories are slightly below the five-year average and 15.7% below a year ago, thanks to late-winter weather, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Substantial builds over the coming weeks will be needed to avoid spiraling prices going into the summer, analysts and brokers said.

"If we don't start seeing average builds of plus-65 (billion cubic feet), and do it for a good eight weeks, that's definitely going to provide a floor for the market," said Gene McGillian, a broker and analyst with TFS Energy Futures in Stamford, Conn.

Need For Storage

Entering the summer with lower-than-normal gas inventories could leave little wiggle room as air conditioners ramp up, boosting demand for gas-fired electricity. Gas consumption by power generators has jumped by nearly a third since the start of the decade, and by more than 10% in 2007 from the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In the event of normal weather, an uneventful hurricane season, increased domestic gas production and an economic slowdown, companies would be able to beef up stocks before winter, and gas prices would likely fall.

"If all goes well, and we don't have out-of-control heat, or a hurricane, we can do it," said George Hopley, analyst at Barclays Capital. However, "if we're going into a summer where we have a really have to do your yeoman's work (building stocks) in May and early June."

The gas market is also monitoring domestic production for price cues. U.S. gas output is expected to rise, on average, by more than 1.5 billion cubic feet a day from last year, with new supplies coming from the Barnett Shale and other areas of Texas, and from Wyoming, said Ed Kelly, vice president of North America Gas & Power at Wood Mackenzie. However, gas production has been down the last three weeks due to an outage at the Independence Hub, a major U.S. Gulf gas platform that produces up to 10% of the region's gas.

Volunteer firefighter dies of injuries sustained in storms

yler Casey, 21, did not survive to be congratulated for his heroism.

The Seneca Area Fire Protection District volunteer firefighter died at 2 p.m. Monday due to injuries he received while trying to warn Newton County residents of the devastating tornado he saw coming right for them.

Casey is now the 14th person killed in Newton County by the storm that hit the Midwest Saturday night.

Casey was storm spotting Saturday evening at the intersection of Highway 43 and Iris Road, according to Andy Nimmo, Redings Mill fire chief, the spokesman for the Seneca Area Fire Protection District in this matter.

As the storm worsened, Nimmo said Casey was officially dispatched to watch for tornadoes at that intersection. When he saw the tornado coming, Casey warned at least three people to seek shelter — someone changing their tire along the side of the road, as well as two other people in a nearby home.

Casey went back to his car to get out of the storm’s path, but it was too late. His car was hit by the tornado while he was inside.

He was transported to Freeman West and put on life support Saturday.

Casey has a two-year-old daughter and his fiancé is expecting another child. He served as a volunteer firefighter with the Seneca Area Fire Protection District for the last three years. There are about 20 other volunteer firefighters with that district office.

Nimmo said Casey’s death is considered as an officer in the line of duty.


The Guardian's do it again!