Parts of Myanmar still cut off

 Parts of Myanmar still cut off

NST Online » World News (Agence France – Presse)

Parts of Myanmar are still cut off 10 days after its devastating cyclone, the military regime said Monday, ahead of the first aid flight from the United States — one of its most vocal critics.
The flow of international aid into Myanmar, which says 62,000 people are dead or missing, has creased in the past two days, bringing new hope for around 1.5 million people in desperate need of emergency aid.
But aid agencies said it remains difficult to get a full picture of the extent of the catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest and most isolated nations, where the army has kept an iron grip on power for 46 years.
Long suspicious of any outside influences that could undermine their total control, the generals again said Monday that foreign experts — who have the expertise to oversee the massive relief effort — would not be put in charge.

“Delivery of relief goods can be handled by local organisations,” said Economic Development Minister Soe Tha, quoted by the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the junta’s state-run mouthpiece.

He said there were still some parts of country , formerly known as Burma, where government officials had not been able to visit since the massive storm, which churned up a tidal wave and sea surge, hit the southern delta on May 3.

“Supplies were dropped in flooded areas where the helicopters could not land,” Soe Tha said.

Aid groups have insisted the regime does not have the capacity to direct the relief operation in the delta, where diarrhoea and other illnesses are starting to threaten survivors living in scenes of almost unimaginable despair.

Ten days after the tragedy struck, bloated corpses are still floating in the water, untold numbers do not have enough food or fuel or clean water, and many people say the government has not turned up with emergency supplies.

“We have not got any aid from anyone,” said Man Mu, a mother of five in one of the thousands of tiny delta villages that was pulverised by the storm. One of her children was swept away in the disaster.

“We only have the clothes we are wearing,” she said. “We have lost everything.”

As it showed in the Asian tsunami disaster of 2004, the United States is perhaps the only country with the military manpower and equipment to carry out a vast and immediate relief effort of the kind needed.

But there is no question of Myanmar, which has suffered years of sanctions imposed by Washington, allowing in the military of the United States or indeed any other nation.

Analysts say that for the regime, it is crucial to maintain an image of being in total control of the welfare of the people — even though aid groups say any delays in reaching the neediest could cost more lives.

“It sounds pretty devastating,” said US Marine Major Tom Keating, as a US C-130 transport plane in neighbouring Thailand was loaded with blankets, mosquito nets and water for a flight to Myanmar’s main city Yangon later in the day.

“When you have a crisis going and you can’t help out, it’s just frustrating,” he said.

International aid flights have been increasing, and a Red Cross spokesman that nine of its planes alone will have reached Yangon by day’s end. But aid groups stress that far more is needed.

“It’s not true that nothing is happening at all, but not enough is happening,” said Frank Smithuis of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

It has been impossible to get an accurate toll of the numbers of dead and missing, and estimates have varied widely from day to day.

The United Nations and US diplomats have said they believe at least 100,000 are dead.

Relief agencies have struggled to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground.

Andrew Kirkwood of Save the Children, one of the few agencies allowed to operate under tight controls inside Myanmar, said there were now outbreaks of fever and diarrhoea among survivors.

He said many people were also suffering from wind-burn, from spending days out in the elements after their homes were destroyed.

Thousands of people have been flocking over the past few days to the delta town of Myaungmya, fleeing villages that in many cases are no longer there.

ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan has written to Myanmar seeking “quick admission” of aid from the region, but unlike western governments has stopped short of condemning the junta.

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