BANGKOK - A top official of the United Nations World Food Programme today called on the government of Myanmar to step up its efforts toward social and economic reforms for the benefit of the country's desperately poor and needy people.
"Myanmar and its people have so much potential to achieve the solid economic growth that could lift millions out of poverty," said Sheila Sisulu, WFP Deputy Executive Director, who just completed a four-day visit to WFP operations in Myanmar.
"WFP is concerned that the country is not achieving the type of growth needed to improve the lives of all its citizens. We are trying to help some of the neediest, but the real underlying fact remains that the government has to pursue the reforms that are obvious and necessary."
Sisulu said that in her talks with government officials, she emphasized that a much stronger shift toward good governance in Myanmar is essential for the country's successful development.
On her first visit to Myanmar, Sisulu also spoke with officials from other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, the opposition National League for Democracy, and leaders of ethnic groups about the needs of the people and the extent to which they are being met.
Her mission took her to the Northern Shan State, where she met the children and teachers in a WFP school feeding in Pan Phate village and talked with farmers participating in a programme to help them grow crops other than poppy, which was banned two years ago.
"I saw deprivation, genuine want among the Myanmarese when I went to the Northern Shan State," said Sisulu. "Not enough priority is being placed on the real needs of the citizens. I urge all those involved in the welfare of the hungry poor people to put their needs ahead of all other considerations or interests."
Sisulu, who is on a tour of four Asian countries - Nepal, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh - stressed that Myanmar is one of Asia's poorest countries, but has tremendous human and natural resources.
WFP has been assisting poor and marginalized people, some of them returned refugees from Bangladesh, in North Rakhine State for the past 10 years. Last November, the agency began providing the food component of home-based care packages to families with HIV/AIDS as well as emergency food rations to farmers switching from poppies to alternative crops.
Sisulu is scheduled to travel today to India, where she will play a leading role in the Asian Ministerial Consultation on Maternal and Child Nutrition, co-sponsored by WFP and the Government of India, to be held in New Delhi 15-17 September.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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