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Rain lashes Myanmar cyclone survivors PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

REUTERS, YANGON - Heavy rains pelted homeless cyclone survivors in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta on Tuesday, complicating already slow delivery of aid to more than 1.5 million people facing hunger and disease.

As more foreign aid trickled into the former Burma, critics ratcheted up the pressure on its military rulers to accelerate a relief effort that is only delivering an estimated one-tenth of the supplies needed in the devastated delta.

"The response of the regime in Burma to this crisis has been absolutely callous and those paying the price of this callousness have been the long-suffering Burmese people," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told parliament.

An Australian air force plane landed in Yangon, Myanmar's main city, with 31 tonnes of emergency supplies, a day after the first U.S. military aid flight arrived in a country Washington has described as an "outpost of tyranny."

Two more U.S. flights were due on Tuesday as part of a "confidence building" effort to prod Myanmar's reclusive generals into allowing a larger international relief operation 11 days after the disaster left up to 100,000 dead or missing.

Tens of thousands of people throughout the delta are crammed into monasteries, schools and other buildings after arriving in towns that were on the breadline even before the disaster.

Lacking food, water and sanitation, they face the threat of killer diseases such as cholera. Heavy rains added to the misery of survivors with little shelter.

"Where I am now there's over 10,000 homeless people and it's pouring rain," Bridget Gardener of the International Red Cross said during a rare tour of the delta by a foreign aid official.

While a steady stream of aid flights have landed in Yangon, only a fraction of the relief needed is getting to the delta due to flooding and because the junta is keeping most foreign aid and logistics experts either out of the country or in Yangon.

The World Food Programme said it was able to deliver less than 20 percent of the 375 tonnes of food a day it wanted to move into the flooded delta.

"CRITICAL POINT"

International relief organisations say their local staff are stretched to breaking point, while Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said its workers faced "increasing constraints" in the delta.

One Yangon businessman just back from a personal aid mission to Bogalay, a delta township where at least 10,000 people were killed, said the army was appropriating aid.

"There are still some villages in the worst-hit areas that nobody has got to," the man, in his late 30s, told Reuters.

"Around Bogalay, private donors are not allowed to distribute their assistance to the victims themselves. We had to hand over what we had."

The junta has welcomed "aid from any nation" but has made it very clear it does not want outsiders distributing it.

At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered his most critical comments to date.

"I want to register my deep concern -- and immense frustration -- at the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis," he told reporters.

"We are at a critical point," he said. "Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today's crisis."

Speaking after the first U.S. military aid flight to Myanmar on Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush condemned the junta for failing to act more quickly to accept international help, saying "either they are isolated or callous."

"It's been days and no telling how many people have lost their lives as a result of the slow response," he said in a radio interview with CBS News.

Myanmar state television raised its official toll to 31,938 dead and 29,770 missing on Monday. Most of the casualties were killed by the 12-foot (3.5 metre) wall of water that hit the delta along with the cyclone's 190 kph (120 mph) winds.

The cyclone raged through an area that is home to nearly half of the country's 53 million people, as well as its main rice-growing region. About 5,000 sq km (1,930 sq miles) of land remain under water.

France was sending a warship carrying 1,500 tonnes of rice which was expected near Myanmar later this week. Paris says it wants to distribute the food directly itself, but will not do so without authorisation.

The United States will also have three ships near Myanmar this week, and Britain was sending a navy ship to the region to help humanitarian operations.

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