YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Six months after Cyclone Nargis smashed into Myanmar's coastline, killing tens of thousands of people, aid groups say once-lagging relief efforts have picked up pace but the task of rebuilding and recovery is far from finished.
Foreign aid staffers were initially barred from cyclone-affected areas and the ruling military junta was criticized for its ineffective response to the May 2-3 disaster. During a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in late May, it agreed to allow in some foreign aid workers and formed a "Tripartite Core Group" made up of the government, the U.N. and Southeast Asian countries to facilitate the flow of international assistance.
Despite the slow initial response, "the relief effort for the first six months has been successful," said Ramesh Shrestha, the representative in Myanmar for UNICEF, which has coordinated aid to women and children. "However, we cannot stop now."
The U.N. said in a statement issued Sunday on behalf of the Tripartite Core Group that "there is a continued need for emergency relief, as well as support for early and long-term recovery efforts."
Only 53.3 percent of the $484 million in relief money sought by a U.N.-coordinated appeal has been raised, it said.
The official death toll is 84,537, with 53,836 others listed as missing. Some 2.4 million people were severely affected by the storm, with the total damage estimated as high as $4 billion.
A major pressing issue is how survivors will be able to support themselves.
Recent visitors to the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst hit by the storm, report that most cyclone victims have cooking utensils, mosquito nets and other basic necessities. But they express concern about opportunities to earn enough money to buy food.
Farmers say the salt water deposited in their fields by the storm surge means their harvest may be poor. Fishermen, most relying on donated boats and nets, report smaller than usual catches.
Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu, chairman of the Tripartite Core Group, said in the U.N. statement that "children are back in school, people are working again, the rice crop is due for harvesting shortly, and transport and health facilities are again accessible."
But the group said "many survivors remain vulnerable, specially in terms of continued access to clean water, adequate shelter and restoring livelihoods."
World Vision, the largest private relief agency working in Myanmar, said in a statement last week that "the needs of survivors remain great."
It said that a recent assessment of three badly hit townships in the delta showed that "nearly 40 percent of those surveyed had sold off assets, and over 40 percent had borrowed food or money for food within the past month."
It said one third of those surveyed reported reducing the number of meals they ate each day during the month.
World Vision said its survey also found that almost one third of children aged 5 to 11 - and more than half those aged 12 to 17 - were not enrolled in school at the time of the assessment.