Aid agencies with local staff have been schlepping emergency supplies to submerged coastal areas by boat and on foot. Still, relief officials said there is a long way to go before significant assistance arrives where it is most needed.
“I think we are making progress. I hope so,” John Holmes, the top U.N. official for disaster relief, said in New York, obviously straining to put on a positive face as he briefed reporters.
He expressed gratitude that the government had consented to receive foreign aid, release casualty figures and accept the accounting standards that accompany U.N. emergency relief.
The United Nations and other aid organizations are generally reluctant to criticize the host country’s handling of a natural disaster, in part because they don’t want to antagonize those who make crucial decisions about assistance. Brittle courtesy is especially important with Burma, a military dictatorship that is deeply suspicious of foreigners.
Mr. Holmes said it was still not clear who would eventually distribute the supplies, where and to whom.
The government has indicated that it expects to be the major partner in distribution, U.N. officials said, a situation the world body can accept only if it has monitoring or oversight.
“It’s clear to all of us that we are faced here with a major catastrophe, particularly in the Irrawaddy Delta,” Mr. Holmes said, acknowledging that “aid efforts are clearly not up to the task at the moment.”
Mr. Holmes, a Briton who heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the United Nations would not accept racial or ethnic discrimination in the distribution of relief supplies, and that commodities would be monitored as best they could.
Some international charities, known as nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, have long been in active in Burma, using local staff.
“Most urgent need is food and water,” Andrew Kirkwood, head of Save the Children, in Rangoon, told the Associated Press. “Many people are getting sick. The whole place is under saltwater, and there is nothing to drink. They can’t use tablets to purify saltwater.”
State-run television said that assistance had arrived from Japan, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, China, India and Singapore — all Asian neighbors.
At least 30 nations had pledged some form of support for Burma, which its military rulers renamed Myanmar after a 1962 coup.
The combined offers are worth about $30 million in cash and commodities, but that figure is sure to rise when OCHA issues a detailed emergency appeal later this week.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has donated medical supplies to its Burmese counterpart and, like a dozen other relief agencies, stands ready to deliver emergency provisions such as food, generators and other essential items as soon as it receives clearance from the government.
• Nicholas Kralev in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.