“I want to register my deep concern – and immense frustration – at the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Ban said at a press conference in New York.
“Unless more aid gets into the country – very quickly – we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today's crisis,” he added in a statement issued in Accra on Tuesday by the UN Information Centre in Accra.
“I therefore call, in the most strenuous terms, on the Government of Myanmar to put its people's lives first. It must do all that it can to prevent the disaster from becoming even more serious.”
The statement said international relief agencies estimated that around 1.5 million people were at severe risk following Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on 2 May. Official death toll reported by the Government has reached almost 32,000, with over 34,000 others missing.
Last week the UN called on the Government to allow aid workers to enter the country more speedily and said that some international relief supplies were being held up at Myanmar's main airport.
On Monday, Mr. Ban said, there were “encouraging signs” that the Government had “made some initial moves to ease access restrictions.”
He said many aid airlifts had arrived over the weekend and Monday, but added that, “much more is needed.”
While the UN and international aid agencies were “well positioned” to help tackle the emergency, Mr. Ban said that staff on the ground “were grievously overstretched and the Government continues to deny visas to most foreign aid workers.”
The Secretary-General said that the UN had been able to reach less than a third of the people at risk – about 270,000 people.
He said that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that the amount of food allowed into the country so far was less than one-tenth of what is needed, while rice stocks within Myanmar were close to exhaustion.
Mr. Ban said he had tried repeatedly over the weekend and last week to telephone Myanmar's senior General Than Shwe, but had not been able to reach him, so he had delivered a second letter to him through diplomatic channels.
The Secretary-General called on the Government to set up major logistics operations to deliver supplies to the most affected areas.
He said that “this required the specialized expertise of the major international relief agencies. Myanmar cannot do it alone.”