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100,000 may have died in cyclone

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Monique Faulkner
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« on: May 08, 2008, 11:04:19 am »

Rotting corpses pile up as Myanmar stalls on aid

Story Highlights
Rotting corpses pile up in Myanmar as junta accused of dragging feet

NEW: Myanmar TV reports aid from six countries landed in Yangon

WFP plane lands in devastated country, status of other flights uncertain

Lack of clean water, food and medical supplies prompt disease fears


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YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- Myanmar's cyclone survivors have insufficient fuel to burn the rotting corpses of the dead as the ruling military junta is accused of being too slow in letting aid groups into the country.




A child sleeps on the floor as cyclone-affected families shelter in a school in western Yangon.

1 of 3more photos   Relief agencies say decomposing corpses litter ditches and fields in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta area as survivors try to conserve fuel for transporting much-needed supplies.

The international community is growing increasingly frustrated with the junta's lack of progress in granting visas for relief workers and giving clearance for aid flights to land.

They are concerned the lack of medical supplies and clean food and water threatens to increase the already staggering death toll.

Myanmar's military government says more than 22,000 people died when the killer cyclone battered the country's low-lying delta region over the weekend. The top U.S. diplomat in the country has said the toll could top 100,000.

The isolated government has begun allowing more aid agencies into the country Thursday to respond to the dire needs of cyclone victims.

Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced that shipments from Bangladesh, China, India, Singapore, Italy and Thailand arrived at Yangon's international airport.

The station said the military was using helicopters to deliver medicine, food and generators throughout the Irrawaddy delta, specifically along the areas around Bassein and Pyapon.

But aid workers from the United Nations and other organizations were still concerned that supplies weren't getting into the country fast enough.

A World Food Programme plane carrying high-energy biscuits landed in Myanmar on Thursday to provide a small dose of assistance amid a mushrooming humanitarian crisis.

"We have gotten valuable cooperation. The first steps have been taken," WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told CNN Thursday morning. "But it's taking too long. It needs to go much quicker.

"We have lots of experience in situations like these. We know how to do this," Luescher said. "We just need the cooperation."

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Paul Risley, another WFP spokesman, told CNN there were reports of "civil unrest" in the worst-hit areas where people were scrambling for limited food supplies.

He said U.N. assessment teams had observed "large crowds gathering around shops -- the few that were open -- literally fighting over the chance to buy what food was available."

There are also reports of price gouging in urban areas around Yangon, Myanmar's largest city and former capital, Risley said.

The delta region had few roads to begin with, many of them were now under water and the storm had washed away numerous bridges, said Shari Villarosa, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon.

 Look at satellite pictures of the damage by the flooding

CNN's Dan Rivers, one of the few international journalists to have visited the hardest-hit areas of Myanmar, said relief had not reached the people who needed it most.

"We're hearing dreadful stories of hundreds of dead bodies left lying in the fields, decomposing," he said. "These people need help immediately."

China urges Myanmar junta to 'open up'

China on Thursday urged close ally Myanmar to work with the international community to help overcome the disaster.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China hoped the country would "cooperate with the international community" to help overcome the disaster quickly.

The U.S has also been pushing for access, pledging $3.25 million and offering to send U.S. Navy ships to the region to help relief efforts.

The U.S. military had already flown six helicopters on to a Thai airbase, as Washington awaits permission to go into the south Asian country, two senior military officials told CNN's Barbara Starr.

Eric John, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, told The Associated Press Thursday that they had still not been given permission to send relief flights to Myanmar despite reports to the contrary.

The U.S. and other nations do not recognize the military junta -- which maintained control of the country even after 1990, when an opposition political party won victory in democratic elections. The country's name was changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.  Learn more about Myanmar's recent history

Aid strategy: Don't 'flood' Yangon

Gregory Beck, of the International Rescue Committee, said the struggle to get aid workers and supplies into the country continued.

"We can't delay on this -- this is a huge disaster and the longer [Myanmar] waits the worse it's going to become."  Watch a report from Rivers on the growing desperation in Myanmar

Myanmar's government has asked for international aid, but the junta has balked at allowing assessment teams into the country -- a step that most agencies and countries take before deciding how much and what kind of aid to provide.

The strategy is not to "flood Yangon" with aid workers, but get 30 to 40 experienced U.N staffers into the country, according to Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"It's quality over quantity," he said from his office in Bangkok.

Horsey said Myanmar's government "is more open to goods" rather than aid workers, but said it was understandable considering the military regime's "reticence to engage with the international community." But he pointed out that such a major disaster "would overwhelm any government."

Horsey said the regime had provided a number of helicopters and a larger number of boats to the relief effort.

He said the main hurdle was getting them into the flood-soaked delta, where nearly 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) remained underwater.

"When vast areas are flooded.. helicopters can't land," Horsey said. "When you get down to the tip of the delta, it's not much above sea level. When you get a major storm surge ... it doesn't drain back again."

The problem, he said, was compounded by the current monsoon period in South Asia.

One of the hardest-hit areas is Pyinzalu, a small town on the tip of the Irrawaddy delta, which has not fully recovered from the 2004 tsunami, according to World Vision health advisor Dr. Kyi Minn in Yangon.

Survivors from the delta villages described bodies along the road and floating in the rivers as they walked more than 100 kilometers to Yangon. That, Minn said, has had a significant mental impact on the survivors.


Yangon was pretty much back to normal, he said. Roads had been cleared of debris, and electricity and potable water were available.  Watch a report on the damage to Myanmar's infrastructure

World Vision, which has 500 aid workers in Myanmar, has provided aid in the country for more than 40 years. In a rare move, Myanmar's junta specifically asked World Vision to help provide aid to cyclone survivors.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/05/08/myanmar/index.html
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