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Video Burma cyclone disaster: UN says 102,000 dead - Page 2
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    Aid call as Burma casualties rise




    Burma's capital Rangoon is one of the areas worst-affected by the cyclone


    International agencies are pushing to gain access for a massive aid operation in Burma, where the toll from Saturday's cyclone continues to rise.

    Up to 15,000 people are said to have died in the disaster, and many more are missing, officials say.
    Hundreds of thousands of people are said to be without clean water and shelter, with some areas still cut-off.
    Burma's leaders say they will accept external help, in a move correspondents say reflects the scale of the disaster.


    New video shows the force of the cyclone which ripped through Burma

    The military junta has said it will postpone to 24 May a referendum on a new constitution in areas worst-hit by the cyclone - including the former capital Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta, state television said on Tuesday.

    See the path of Cyclone Nargis

    But the vote initially planned for 10 May will proceed as planned in the rest of the country, the report said.

    'Catastrophe'
    Work is still under way to assess the scale of the devastation caused by the cyclone, which brought winds reaching 190km/h (120mph).
    More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the cyclone itself, Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in Rangoon on Tuesday.

    "The wave was up to 12ft (3.5m) high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said. "They did not have anywhere to flee."




    In pictures: Burmese clean-up
    Your pictures: Rangoon damage


    The director for the World Food Programme in Burma, Chris Kaye, said information about the destruction in the Irrawady Delta was still emerging, but it was clear it was on a very large scale.
    "We have a major humanitarian catastrophe in our hands. The numbers of people in need are still to be determined, but I'm sure we're talking of hundreds and thousands," he told the BBC World Service's World Today programme from Rangoon.
    "The concern that we have is in respect to shelter, water and sanitation. Those are the acute needs which need to be fulfilled as a matter of urgency, and to be able to address those is a prerequisite to ensuring that the humanitarian situation does not deteriorate."
    Andrew Kirkwood, Burma country director for Save the Children, said there were positive signs from the Burmese authorities, who have traditionally been suspicious of aid agencies, limiting their activities.
    "Every indication is that everyone realises that this is an unprecedented event in Myanmar's [Burma's] history and the government is much more open to international assistance than it has ever been."
    Mr Kirkwood said that responding to the devastation would be a major logistical feat, requiring boats and trucks.

    'Dire need'
    In the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta region, the storm caused a sea surge that smashed through to "Those areas in the southern part of the Delta - Bogalay, Laputta and Gyapor - were very severely affected, particularly by the storm surge," Mr Kaye told the BBC.
    "And a storm surge in a low-lying area such as that, coupled with very high winds, clearly has served to flatten large areas of that part of the delta, and of course taken villages and villagers with it."

    The storm destroyed roads, downed power lines and flattened houses, leaving people across the region homeless.
    "Reports are coming out of the delta coast, particularly the Irrawaddy region, that in some villages up to 95% of houses have been destroyed," said Matthew Cochrane of the International Red Cross.

    Prices of food, fuel and basic necessities have also risen dramatically in the wake of the storm, putting more people at risk.

    'No warning'
    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN would do "whatever [necessary] to provide urgent humanitarian assistance".

    A shipment of aid from Thailand is due to arrive on Tuesday and India is sending two naval
    The US has also offered to increase aid offered if Burma agrees to allow a US team access to assess the situation.
    First Lady Laura Bush, who takes a special interest in Burma, urged Burma to accept $250,000 (126,000) already allocated for emergency aid, and said more would be available if the team was allowed into the country.

    But she accused the Burmese authorities of failing to give a "timely warning" about the approaching storm.
    In Rangoon, residents complained that the government response to the disaster has been weak.

    "The government misled people," one grocery store owner told the Associated Press news agency. "They could have warned us about the severity of the coming cyclone so we could be better prepared."



    BBC News.



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    Re: Burma declares cyclone disaster: 15,000 believed dead

    Update: Burma vote partly put off

    Rangoon - The military junta partly reversed itself on Tuesday and postponed Saturday's scheduled constitutional referendum for two weeks in 47 central townships hit hardest by killer Cyclone Nargis.

    The referendum on a constitution designed to legalise the military's 46-year dominant role in politics has been postponed to May 24 in seven townships in the Irrawaddy Division and 40 townships in Rangoon, the former capital, state-run radio reports said.

    The referendum has been criticized as a sham, designed to approve the military-sponsored constitution through intimidation and rigging of the vote.

    Even critics of the regime, used to violent and irrational behaviour by the ruling junta, were aghast that it is continuing with plans to hold the referendum Saturday at all, given the magnitude of the natural disaster, which has killed at least 15,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless and struggling for survival.

    We are asking the international community to pressure the regime to defer the referendum in order to address the devastation caused by the cyclone," said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area), one of several Thailand-based groups struggling to bring democracy to Burma.

    On Monday, in the wake of a cyclone that devastated Rangoon, killed an estimated 15,000 people and left a million homeless, the generals announced that the referendum would go ahead, because "people were happy" to be able to vote.

    Soe Aung, at a press conference in Bangkok, said the military government, which has so far not actually allowed any international emergency aid into the country, should concentrate on coping with the disaster rather than on pushing ahead with the referendum.

    United States first lady Laura Bush, while announcing a $250,000 emergency aid grant to Burma on Monday, accused the junta of not adequately warning the population in advance of the cyclone. (dpa)

    "Although they were aware of the threat, Burma's state run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path," Mrs Bush said.

    Soe Aung agreed with the assessment.

    "As we all know, the military regime was too busy preparing this referendum to push ahead, which is very important for them because it will cement their power forever through the constitution, so they didn't pay the cyclone much attention." (dpa)

    Bangkok Post

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    Re: Burma declares cyclone disaster: 15,000 believed dead

    Burma's cyclone death toll soars



    Many homes in the Irrawaddy river delta were destroyed by the cyclone

    Enlarge Image

    The death toll from Burma's devastating cyclone has now risen to more than 22,000, state media have said.
    Another 41,000 are missing three days after Cyclone Nargis hit the country, causing a huge tidal surge to sweep inland, according to state radio.
    The report came as aid agencies begin what they expect to be a major relief operation to help hundreds of thousands left without clean water and shelter.

    Burma's government has been criticised over its handling of the crisis.
    A number of Burmese nationals and some foreigners have said they had not been properly warned by the country's military leaders about the approaching storm.
    Some witnesses have also said the government's response to the disaster has so far been slow and inadequate.

    US President George W Bush has urged the military leadership to open up to American aid, saying his country was ready to use its navy "to help find the missing, to help stabilise the situation".
    "But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," he said.

    Mr Bush was speaking as he signed legislation awarding the top US civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the detained Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The US later said it had offered $3m of emergency aid, up from an initial contribution of $250,000. The EU announced it had provided 2m euros ($3.1m) of aid, while China said it had given $1m.
    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country had limited its financial contribution to 200,000 euros ($310,000) because the Burmese authorities had insisted on distributing the funds themselves.
    "It's not a lot, but we don't really trust the way the Burmese ministry would use the money," he said.

    Horrific scenes
    State media reported on Tuesday that 22,464 people had now been confirmed as dead and another 41,054 people missing as a result of the cyclone.

    EXTENT OF THE DEVASTATION



    UN map showing worst-hit areas, based on satellite imagery [1.13MB]

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    Almost all of the deaths occurred in the Irrawaddy river delta region, where more were killed by the tidal wave than the cyclone itself, Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told reporters in Rangoon.
    "The wave was up to 12ft [3.5m] high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said. "They did not have anywhere to flee."

    Some 95% of the homes in the city of Bogalay in the Irrawaddy delta were destroyed and most of its 190,000 residents are now homeless, he added.
    The neighbouring cities of Labutta and Pyapon have also been badly affected. A doctor in Labutta told the BBC that half of the city had vanished and dozens of surrounding villages washed away.

    Satellite images released by the US space agency, Nasa, showed virtually the entire coastal plain of the country under water, destroyed roads, downed power lines and flattened houses.
    One of the few aid agencies permitted to work inside Burma, World Vision, described scenes of horror in the affected areas, with fields strewn with bodies and desperate survivors without food or shelter.
    "They saw the dead bodies from the helicopters, so it's quite overwhelming," said Kyi Minn, an adviser to World Vision's office.

    Aid appeal
    International aid agencies and the United Nations have begun a major relief operation to help the hundreds of thousands of survivors left homeless by the cyclone.


    Many countries have promised humanitarian assistance to Burma


    Eyewitness reports
    The aid challenge

    Crucial test for junta

    The UN World Food Programme said its food aid had begun to reach people in and around Rangoon. Additional truckloads of food are due to be dispatched on Wednesday to Labutta, which it said was the area hardest hit.
    It said many of the coastal areas in the Irrawaddy delta remained cut off and isolated due to extensive flooding and road damage.
    The WFP said it had more than 800 tonnes of food available in its warehouses in Rangoon and would airlift more supplies into Burma as soon as possible.
    WFP country director Chris Kaye said the government had provided "some valuable co-operation", but suggested it had been insufficient.
    "In order to meet the needs of the persons most badly affected by the disaster, much more co-operation will be required in the short term," he said.
    Thailand has already flown in some aid, India is sending two naval ships, and Bangladesh has said it will fly food and water purification tablets to Rangoon on Wednesday. Many other countries have promised further assistance.
    Rashid Khalikov from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters in New York that hundreds of thousands of people were in urgent need of shelter, plastic sheeting, water purification, emergency health kits, cooking sets and food.
    He said UN agencies were emptying their aid stockpiles in the region and had teams ready to go into Burma, but warned that they were being delayed by visa restrictions.
    Mr Khalikov said the UN was urging Burma to waive the requirement for UN staff to have entry visas as the governments of Iran and Pakistan did after similar natural disasters.

    Referendum delay
    Correspondents say Burma, isolated and impoverished, has long been wary of the international community.
    Doubts remain about how much access the government will give to aid workers and there are also concerns about the logistics of reaching remote areas cut off from the outside world, they say.
    Was cyclone predicted?
    In pictures: Cyclone aftermath


    Burma's leaders have said they will accept external help, in a move that correspondents say could reflect the scale of the disaster.
    "The task is very wide and extensive and the government needs the co-operation of the people and well-wishers from at home and abroad," Information Minister Kyaw Hsan was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying on Tuesday.
    "We will not hide anything. Please ask the people not to be duped by rumours or fabrication," he said, adding that $4.5m of disaster aid had been set aside.
    Burmese state television reported on Tuesday the government had decided to postpone to 24 May the referendum on a new constitution in areas worst-hit by the cyclone - including Rangoon and Irrawaddy.
    But it said that the vote initially planned for 10 May would proceed as planned in the rest of the country. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) criticised the decision to press ahead.

    Abridged from BBC News.

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    Aid blockade

    Rangoon - The military junta has appealed for international aid to cyclone victims, but five days after the storm experts cannot even reach victims. In Bangkok, the embassy simply took Monday off for a holiday rather than issue visas, further frustrating would-be aid teams.

    Thailand plans to ship 40 tonnes of food and medical supplies on Wednesday, but there is no sign the aid can be delivered from the airport to the needy.

    Nine tonnes of food and medicine were loaded on a Royal Thai Air Force C-130 cargo plane which flew to Rangoon yesterday. It was the first international aid to reach Burma - four days after the storm.

    Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless and without basic utilities by the cyclone, which killed at least an estimated 15,000 people and left up to a million Burmese homeless and without basic water, food and electricity supplies.

    Efforts to send urgently needed aid teams into the disaster-torn country were being hampered as the regime stalled over granting visas, the UN said in Geneva on Tuesday.

    The ruling junta has said it welcomed international aid. "We need aid from both local and foreign sources," Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told a press conference again on Tuesday. "It is welcome."

    Perhaps so, but the United Nations is facing "enormous difficulties" making an assessment of the disaster wrought by Cyclone Nargis on central Burma, which is likely to hamper any emergency aid programme in the devastated countryside.

    The UN had around 40 people from its Burma office on the ground inside the country, said a spokesman, but its special five-man disaster assessment team (UNDAC) was in Thailand awaiting visas. So were staff from other humanitarian agencies. So were workers from Unicef.

    "We are facing enormous difficulties right now in getting out there and unless there is an assessment ... the first thing you need is an assessment and then you can gauge your response on that," said Aye Win, spokesman for the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Rangoon.

    The International Federation of the Red Cross said it had around 60 full time staff and 18,000 volunteers providing front-line emergency aid in addition to the staff from the UN and other aid agencies.

    The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at a briefing in Geneva, it could not predict what impact the delays might have on the eventual death toll.

    Instead of going to Burma, most workers of UN agencies and international aid agencies gathered in Bangkok Tuesday morning to prepare emergency aid plans for the country, where the cyclone claimed more than 15,000 lives and has left hundreds of thousands homeless.

    Even the meeting went poorly, stalled by the lack of a proper assessment of the situation, sources said.

    "The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) sent four teams to the Irrawaddy Delta region last night and today to make assessments, but you've got to understand that a

    "The UN support system is not sufficient inside" Burma, said Terje Skavdal, regional director of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), in an interview Monday. The UNOCHA headed the Bangkok meetings.

    The military junta has earned a reputation for poor macro-economic management, let alone disaster-management.

    Public funds to handle the crisis are severely limited, sources said.

    But the UN will not be able to launch its disaster-relief programme until a proper assessment of the disaster is in hand, and given the extent of the infrastructure damage in the Irrawaddy Division, such an assessment will take time to complete.

    Even in Rangoon, the country's largest city, people remained largely without electricity, piped water and communications on Tuesday, four days after the cyclone struck.

    "There has been some progress but there is still the problem of water scarcity, and the danger of diseases outbreaks, and this is just in Rangoon," said Aye Win.

    Several countries have pledged aid to Burma - including $3 million from the European Union, $750,000 from Germany, $250,000 from the United States and two ships of supplies from India - to cope with the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the cyclone.

    Thailand and China each flew a military plane filled with aid to Burma, but the material was simply dropped aet the airport.

    The Royal Thai Air Force flew in more than $300,000 worth of medical and food aid, and a planeload of similar supplies from China was also sent. But what happened to it is largely a mystery.

    "We can't yet provide any details" on how aid will be developed to the people who need it, said Maj-Gen Maung Maung Swe, minister of social welfare and resettlement, who attended the press conference with the information minister. (BangkokPost.com from reports by dpa)

    Bangkok Post

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    Burma warned a week ago
    By By Nophkhun Limsamarnphun
    Daily Xpress


    Despite weather advisory from Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, Burmese citizens were not given enough notice to prepare for Cyclone Nargis

    Burma's Department of Meteorology and Hydrology was told of the formation of Cyclone Nargis a week in advance, but the country was not prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

    Bhichit Rattakul, executive director of Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC), said yesterday that one of the first warnings came from the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, which issued an alert on April 27.

    The ADPC, which established an Asia-Pacific-wide early-warning centre for natural disasters at Thailand's Asian Institute of Technology in the wake of 2004 tsunami disaster, forecast the tropical cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, he said.

    According to Bhichit, a former science minister and Bangkok governor, the data were passed on to authorities in several countries in the region, including India and Burma.

    "Our model forecast was right in the landfall position of Cyclone Nargis and we issued this forecast to Burma seven days before the landfall. This accuracy is because the ADPC can provide maps with a high-resolution, 9-kilometre radius to pinpoint the location of our forecasts.

    "In turn, we can identify communities and farmland that are at risk.

    "Upon request from our partner countries, these severe weather advisories are given to national meteorological departments to enable them to issue disaster warnings to their people," he said.

    Bhichit added that preparedness was no less important than early warnings, given that the lack of capacity to prepare well in advance could help prevent avoiding the consequences of natural disasters.

    He declined to comment specifically on the Burma case.

    Dying in a deluge

    According to news reports, large areas of southwest Burma are under water after the devastating cyclone that struck at the weekend, killing at least 22,000 people, satellite images show.

    Tropical Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma late on Friday, wiping away entire villages in the Irrawaddy delta and wreaking destruction on a country that is already one of the poorest on the planet.

    Nasa pictures taken on Monday show the entire coastal plain under water, with fallow agricultural areas of the delta - the country's main rice-growing region - particularly hard hit by flooding

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    Burma victims 'need aid quickly'



    Agencies say that hundreds of thousands of people need help


    Eyewitness reports
    The aid challenge
    Crucial test for junta

    Aid agencies are calling for speedy access to survivors as the scale of the disaster in Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis becomes apparent.

    Hundreds of thousands of survivors face disease and hunger, agencies warn. "Time is of the essence," said the head of the UN children's agency Unicef.

    Tens of thousands of people have been killed and up to a million are without shelter in the Irrawaddy delta region.
    UN aid agencies are negotiating for access to the tightly-controlled state.
    Survivors faced poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean water, Unicef said in statement.

    Highly vulnerable
    Flooding could lead to outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever, while water-born diseases such as cholera and dysentery were also a threat.
    "In situations such as these, children are highly vulnerable to disease and hunger and they need immediate help to survive," Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the agency said.
    International relief agencies have been calling on Burma's military government to relax restrictions on their operations in the wake of the disaster.
    Assessment teams are on the ground and some aid is beginning to make its way to those who need it.

    The World Food Programme has begun to distribute food in and around Burma's main city, Rangoon.

    The US, UK, EU and China have all pledged money towards relief efforts. Thailand has already shipped aid and India has sent two naval vessels.
    But parts of the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region remain isolated and aid experts are warning that a massive logistical effort will be required to assist people there.

    UN and other aid agencies are urging Burma's leaders to allow foreign experts into the country to help.
    "The government has shown a certain openness so far," said Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
    "We hope that we will get the visas as soon as possible, in the coming hours.
    "I think the authorities have understood the seriousness of the situation and that they will act accordingly."

    Under water
    Meanwhile, details are continuing to emerge of the destruction caused by the cyclone.
    Almost all of the deaths occurred in the Irrawaddy river delta region, where officials said the majority of people were killed by a tidal surge 12 ft (3.5m) high.
    Satellite images released by the US space agency, Nasa, showed virtually the entire coastal plain of the country under water.


    Swathes of southwest Burma are under water following the cyclone


    Some 95% of the homes in the city of Bogalay were destroyed and most of its 190,000 residents are reported to be homeless. The neighbouring cities of Labutta and Pyapon have also been badly affected.

    Andrew Kirkwood, country director in Burma for Save the Children, said his staff had witnessed harrowing scenes in worst-hit parts of the region.
    "One team came across thousands of people killed in one township, with piles of rotting bodies lying on the ground as the water had receded," he told the French news agency AFP.

    State media reported on Tuesday that 22,464 people had now been confirmed dead and another 41,054 people missing as a result of the cyclone.
    As rescue teams get to areas presently cut off, those figures are expected to rise.

    Abridged from BBC News

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    India says it gave Burma cyclone warning two days in advance
    By Deutsche Press Agentur

    New Delhi - The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday said it had given Burma 48 hours warning before cyclone Nargis smashed into the South-East Asian country claiming more than 22,500 lives.

    The IMD had been monitoring the depression in the Bay of Bengal after it was first detected on April 26 and was issuing regular advisories to neighbouring Burma since then, cyclone director M Mahapatra said.

    The IMD is a Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre (RSMC) which is mandated by the UN's World Meteorological Organization to issue cyclone warnings to Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Oman and Pakistan.

    "The system had intensified into a cyclone on April 28. Forty-eight hours before it struck, we had informed about its landfall, movement and severity such as wind speed of 180 kilometres per hour, to the Burmaese authorities," Mahapatra said.

    "We were more or less correct in our assessment and warnings. There was ample time to take precautionary measures to save lives," he added.

    The Burma government has said that more than 22,500 people were killed after the cyclone slammed into the country on Saturday. Some 41,000 people remained missing in the aftermath of the storm, deemed the worst disaster to hit South-East Asia since the December 2004 tsunami.

    The comments by the IMD come in the backdrop of US allegations that Burma's military regime failed to warn citizens of the cyclone.

    "Although they were aware of the threat, Burma's state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path," US Fist Lady Laura Bush had said on Monday referring to Burma by its former name of Burma.//dpa
    (The Nation)

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    Burma authorises UN aid delivery



    The aid delivery will include water purifiers to help combat disease


    Burma's secretive military leaders have approved a United Nations aid flight to help victims of the devastating cyclone that left more than 22,000 people dead.
    The UN said an aircraft carrying 25 tonnes of aid was due to leave Italy.
    The move comes as aid agencies are warning that many face hunger and disease, and are appealing for urgent access to survivors.
    There are concerns that the generals' reluctance to allow aid personnel into the country is hampering the effort.
    Burma has now put a minister in charge of providing visas to foreign aid workers.
    Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the UN's disaster relief agency OCHA said the government had named Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint to oversee visa applications for aid agencies.


    Footage of the aid operation in Burma from state-run TV

    State media reported on Tuesday that 22,464 people had now been confirmed dead and another 41,054 people were missing as a result of Cyclone Nargis on Saturday. Up to a million people are thought to have been left homeless.

    'No emotion'
    As rescue teams reach areas that had been cut off, those figures are expected to rise.
    Many roads are still blocked by fallen trees and debris and there are reports of survivors trekking through floodwaters littered with bloated bodies of people and animals to reach help.

    "The people have no emotion left on their faces. They have never seen anything like this before," one witness told French news agency AFP.
    "They have lost their families, they have nowhere to stay, and they have nothing to eat. They don't know what the future will bring."
    Survivors face poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean water and up to a million are without shelter in the Irrawaddy delta region, according to Unicef.

    Flooding could lead to outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever, while water-born diseases such as cholera and dysentery are also a threat.
    Assessment teams are on the ground and some aid is beginning to make its way to those who need it.

    The World Food Programme has begun to distribute food in and around Burma's main city, Rangoon.

    The US, UK, EU and China have all pledged money towards relief efforts. Thailand has already shipped aid and India has sent two naval vessels.
    But parts of the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region remain isolated, and aid experts are warning that a massive logistical effort will be required to assist people there.

    Abridged from BBC News.

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    ANALYSIS: Burma storm clouds

    By Peter Janssen, dpa

    There is one thing Burmese military rulers can expect in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 22,500 people and wrecked the country's rice bowl: Anger, and a lot of it.

    Burmese have been suffering under military rule for the past 46 years, watching their once prosperous country fall from its perch in the 1950s as Asia's leading exporter of rice and other commodities to its current status, in United Nations jargon, as "least developed developing nation."

    During the decades of the military's economic mismanagement and brutal political suppression, the one thing the generals had in their favour was a mild climate, which along with fertile land provided an assurance that no matter how bad their rule, the people would have enough to eat.

    Now that certainty has been shattered by Mother Nature.

    Cyclone Nargis, packing 200-kilometre-per-hour winds, hit the central coastal region last Friday, inundating the Irrawaddy Delta with tidal waves and floodwaters and smashing much of the fragile infrastructure of Rangoon, the country's largest city and commercial hub.

    The extent of the damage wrought on the Irrawaddy Delta remains unknown, with access still a problem days after the storm.

    What is clear is that the cyclone hit after the main paddy crop had been planted, and Burma faces a serious short-term and possible long-term problem in feeding its people.

    "This disaster is going to last," said one European diplomat. "It's not something that is going to be over in a couple of weeks or months. It will have far-reaching consequences until the next harvest."

    The rich alluvial plains of the Irrawaddy account for at least 60 per cent of the rice crop, the country's staple food.

    Nobody yet knows how much rice the government had stockpiled, but it can be assumed that many warehouses were damaged by the storm. This looming food crisis, both for the cyclone's victims (the number of people in need of assistance is estimated at 24 million) and for the country as a whole, has forced the junta into a situation of unprecedented dependence on the international community to bail it out.

    To the surprise of some, the ruling junta, which has prided itself in the past on its indifference to international opinion, has had to appeal for disaster relief in order to save its own people and, ironically, to save itself.

    "If they don't get enough proper assistance out in the next couple of days or weeks the people will be very angry, and that anger might overcome their fear because they may feel they have nothing to lose," said Win Min, a lecturer on Burmese affairs at Chiang Mai University.

    While acknowledging that they need emergency aid from the international community, the military dictatorship appears to be trying its best to claim the credit for the largesse by controlling its distribution to the devastated countryside.

    "They are delaying visas for foreign aid workers, which is a clear sign that they want the materials but don't want the foreign workers," said Win Min.

    So far, the government has refused to waive visas requirements for teams trying to bring in foreign aid, although this may change as the magnitude of the catastrophe sinks in.

    Meanwhile, Western donors are trying to make sure the emergency relief is delivered and a major disaster averted, while at the same time trying to assure that it is not squandered.

    "We are ready to provide help without political bargaining but at the same time we have to have a minimal number of people in the country to know what is going on to assess the scene and make sure it is well spent," said a Western diplomat. "At the end of the day it is an issue of access."

    Any delays in the delivery of goods is likely to lead to a lot more anger among the people, and that anger may be expressed at the upcoming referendum scheduled for Saturday, a military-managed affair that is intended to endorse a new constitution that will essentially cement their dominant role in all future governments.

    Despite the cyclone, the junta plans to go ahead with the May 10 referendum, although it has postponed the vote in 47 of the worst-hit townships until May 24.

    "For the time being people are concerned with survival, burials, etc, but even people in areas not affected are angry at the governments lack of warning and slow response, so more will vote "no" on Saturday," predicted Bo Kyi, spokesman for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a group based on the Thai-Burmese border.

    It is assumed that the military will make sure that the referendum will result in a positive endorsement for the constitution, but any obvious rigging of the vote will likely make the people even more angry, said Bo Kyi.

    Bangkok Post

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    Re: Burma cyclone disaster: 22,000 dead 41,000 missing.

    Fears Burma storm toll could soar




    Many of the estimated million people made homeless need food and water


    Five days after a devastating cyclone struck, the UN has urged Burma to open its doors to foreign aid and staff.

    More than 22,000 people were killed, says the government, but the top US diplomat in Burma warned that without speedy action that could top 100,000.

    Amid the "increasingly horrendous" situation, there is a "real risk" of disease outbreak, said the head of the US embassy in Burma, Shari Villarosa.
    Some aid has arrived but the UN says big obstacles remain for aid agencies.

    Burma's ruling military junta has approved the passage of some aid, but other offers have been spurned while many foreign aid workers are being held in a queue for visas.

    In the area worst affected by Saturday's cyclone, the vast Irrawaddy delta, survivors have walked for days past dead bodies to find help.
    They are hungry, thirsty and vulnerable to disease - but roads are blocked and aid has been slow to arrive.

    Disease risk
    The last Burmese death toll, on Tuesday, said 22,464 people had now been confirmed dead and another 41,054 people were missing as a result of high winds and the tidal surge.

    What remains is for the Burmese government to allow the international community to help its people. It is not a matter of politics- Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State


    Keeping a lid on chaos
    Aid worker's diary

    Up to a million people are thought to have been left homeless in the crisis, which has left thousands of square kilometres of the Irrawaddy delta under water.
    Shari Villarosa, the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Burma - also known as Myanmar - said food and water were running short in the delta area and called the situation there "increasingly horrendous."
    "There is a very real risk of disease outbreaks as long as this continues," Ms Villarosa said, according to Associated Press.
    The death toll could reach or exceed 100,000 as humanitarian conditions worsen, she said - based on information from a non-governmental organisation that she would not name.

    Accounts from the Irrawaddy delta have spoken of fistfights breaking out between survivors desperate to seize dwindling supplies of food and water.
    Some are breaking open coconuts for the water inside, while others are driven to eating dead fish.

    Poor sanitation, rotting bodies in the water, and flooding could all bring disease, aid agencies warn.
    They highlight the risk of mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fever, along with water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

    Calls for access
    The Burmese authorities have attracted criticism over claims they are refusing to provide visas to waiting foreign aid workers and have spurned some offers of help, such as a US offer to deploy three naval ships and two planes in the region.
    The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the latest to voice such criticism, telling reporters:
    "What remains is for the Burmese government to allow the international community to help its people. It should be a simple matter. It is not a matter of politics."
    Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged authorities in Burma to assist the entry of foreign aid workers and supplies into the country "in every way possible" - strong diplomatic language, says the BBC's correspondent at the UN, Laura Trevelyan.
    Speaking to reporters, the UN's humanitarian chief John Holmes accepted that aid agencies had faced difficulties accessing the disaster zone.

    Aid arrives
    But, he said, co-operation from the Burmese authorities was "reasonable and heading in the right direction".
    He dismissed a suggestion by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution allowing aid to be flown into the country by force as unnecessarily confrontational.
    Mr Holmes said 24 countries had pledged assistance so far worth $30m (£15m), and a flash appeal would be launched on Friday once an initial assessment of need was complete.
    An assessment team was due in Burma on Thursday.
    A stream of aid is now in, or on its way, to Burma:
    • The UN says a plane loaded with 25 tonnes of supplies and a small team of rescue staff will arrive in Burma within days
    • The UN's World Food Programme has dispatched an additional four planes loaded with supplies including high-energy biscuits
    • Chinese media say a plane carrying 60 tonnes of aid has landed in the biggest city, Rangoon
    • Planes from Thailand, India and Indonesia are also being dispatched
    • The WFP has already begun to distribute existing food aid stocks in and around Rangoon, and the Red Cross has a handful of expatriate and many local staff on the ground.
    Abridged from BBC News.

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