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5/6/2008

Nargis cyclone claims 15,000… 100,000

Filed under: burma,General,global islands,government,military,weather — admin @ 6:32 am

Burma’s government said today that at least 15,000 people are dead and 30,000 missing after Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the country on Saturday. The storm, which struck the capital Yangon and the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta, triggered a tidal wave killing thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The country’s isolated military junta have allowed in aid agencies to help distribute vital supplies. The UN is discussing how to supply more aid…

Myanmar Holds Election Amid Stench of Death
Ruling Junta Keeps Political Process Going Despite Scores of Dead and Dying

In Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta, old men lie under crushed tin roofs, flies covering their faces. Nobody has come to help them exactly one week after Cyclone Nagris arrived. Dead bodies litter the sides of rivers, bloated from neglect. The stench of death overwhelms towns.

But 70 miles to the north, in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, two young women smile and dance on state television, a glitzy promotional campaign for a referendum that proceeded today despite the 1.5 million to 2 million Burmese who have no water, food or shelter.

“Let’s go vote … with sincere thoughts for happy days,” the dancers sing, neglecting to mention the fact that for more than 12 million Burmese conditions are so bad the vote could not proceed where they live.

Myanmar’s ruling generals today appeared more interested in promoting the vote that will entrench their rule than they were in the hundreds of thousands of their people who are drinking coconut milk because they have no clean water, who are sleeping under the stars because they have no homes, who haven’t had electricity since the storm hit.

The United Nations today increased its estimates of the number of dead and the number of people who urgently need aid, saying that anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 people have died from the storm. “And that’s not counting any future casualties,” Richard Horsey, the spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian affairs office in Bangkok, said.

“It’s a major disaster, and relief is not getting there fast enough,” Horsey said. Fewer than 500,000 people have received aid, less than a third of the number who need it, he said.

“It’s a race against time,” Horsey said. “There is a huge risk that diarrheal disease, cholera and so on could start to spread, because there is a lack of clean drinking water, a lack of sanitation facilities. This could be a huge problem and it could lead to a second phase which could be as deadly as the cyclone.”

And yet the generals who run Myanmar spent the day posing for cameras, handing out boxes of aid stamped with their names on it and promoting a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Burmese citizens live in fear of a police state, and most of those brave enough to speak to reporters said they had voted yes, meaning they had voted to allot one out of every four parliamentary seats to the military, allow the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency and ban Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the country’s pro-democracy movement, from public office.

“I voted yes. It was what I was asked to do,” 57-year-old U Kyaing said in Hlegu, 30 miles from Yangon.

Aye Aye Mar, a 36-year-old homemaker, was asked by a reporter if she thought anyone would vote no. Her eyes darted around to see if anyone was watching, and then she whispered, “One vote of ‘No’ will not make a difference.”

Then she raised her voice: “I’m saying ‘Yes’ to the constitution.”

There are some signs that aid into the country is slowly increasing.

The United Nations launched its first emergency appeal for the cyclone’s survivors, asking for $187 million.

The International Committee of the Red Cross sent its first shipment into Myanmar, an aid flight with 31 tons of pumps, generators, water tanks and medicine.

And today, the U.N.’s refugee agency delivered its first supplies into the country, via a border crossing in Mae Sot, Thailand. Two trucks full of mostly tents and some relief supplies will take almost a week to get to Rangon, the U.N. said today.

But there are still thousands of aid workers who have not been given visas to enter the country. The Myanmar government has suggested international organizations deliver aid without accompanying workers. But aid groups point out that the devastation is too vast for a government to handle.

TV images taken at the Yangon airport show workers hand-carrying relief supplies off of the few planes that have been allowed to land, a process far too slow for the Burmese in desperate need.

“The country, the areas which were struck by the cyclone, should get the foreign aid,” one villager said in English, his voice rising in anger.

“The aid workers in the country are saying this is just overwhelming,” Horsey said. “The scale of this in comparison to what people are able to do is just overwhelming.”

It is overwhelming local aid workers in towns such as Myaung Mya, where 10,000 survivors have arrived since the storm hit. They sleep next to each other on bare floors, no fires to keep the mosquitoes away.

“How many more days are we going to be able to feed them? People here can barely afford to feed themselves,” one local businessman said.

Shopkeepers are closing before dusk, fearing looters.

“These people have nothing left to lose,” the businessman said. “Maybe they will just go for it.”

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