Nargis Cyclone Toll Runs to Over 75,000, but Military Junta Blocks Humanitarian Aid

by Gopalan on  May 17, 2008 at 1:44 PM General Health News
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Nargis Cyclone Toll Runs to Over 75,000, but Military Junta Blocks Humanitarian Aid
Nargis cyclone toll runs to be over 75,000 in Myanmar last fortnight. Another 56,000 people are thought to be missing, according to the latest official estimates. But the ruling military junta continues to block humanitarian aid.

While relief work has been denounced as incompetent, the rulers are wary of allowing aid workers inside, fearing any contact with foreigners could help mobilize the discontented public.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government was guilty of "inhuman" treatment of the survivors.

Cyclone Nargis survivors by refusing to allow aid to get through, Gordon Brown says.

He said the disaster was becoming a "man-made catastrophe" and the military regime should be held to account for its "negligence".

Air-drops had not been ruled out, but could be counter-productive, he said.

There is growing condemnation of Burma's response to the 2 May cyclone.

France's UN ambassador has warned the Burmese government that its refusal to allow aid to be delivered to those who need it "could lead to a true crime against humanity".

Jean-Maurice Ripert, speaking at a UN General Assembly session, rejected Burmese allegations that a French aid ship in international waters off Burma's coast was a warship.

In an interview to the BBC World Service, Mr Brown said that Burma's ruling generals would be judged by the world and their own people for thwarting the assistance offered by the rest of the world.

"This is inhuman. We have an intolerable situation, created by a natural disaster," he said.

"It is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do."

He added: "The responsibility lies with the Burmese regime and they must be held accountable."

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which is organising the relief effort of a number of UK charities, said the equivalent of at least £6m of British aid had already reached 350,000 people in need.

The DEC, which includes the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children, said money donated by Britons would be spent on immediate relief efforts and also long-term reconstruction projects.

But aid agencies have become frustrated by the slow progress at which relief supplies are getting to the areas worst hit, with many survivors still without food, water and shelter.

The Burmese junta, which is currently controlling distribution, has allowed the UN and some other agencies to hand out supplies directly.

However, it is still preventing foreign aid workers from entering cyclone-hit areas. Agencies are relying on their in-country and local partner organisations to distribute supplies.

Asked if he believed it was time for forced air-drops of aid, Mr Brown said it remained an option.

"We rule nothing out and the reason we rule nothing out is that we want to get the aid directly to the people."

But he said aid bodies were advising that the most effective course of action was to apply international pressure on the Burmese regime to force it to accept foreign aid.

The UK government was working with the international community to channel British aid through China and the countries forming the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), Mr Brown said.

"That's what we're trying to do as quickly as possible and with great speed."

Asean countries would be holding a high-level meeting on Monday to discuss the problems with aid distribution, Mr Brown added.

Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown has also criticised the junta for blocking foreign assistance.

"I cannot recall a relief operation where... the international response has been subjected to such delays," he said.

Source: Medindia

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