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U.N. Aid Shipments Begin Arriving in Burma
Aid is trickling in from India and elsewhere, but not on the scale that international aid officials believe is needed, given the magnitude of the crisis.
The United Nations' chief emergency relief coordinator, John Holmes, warned that "there is a real danger that an even worse tragedy may unfold if we cannot not get the aid that's desperately needed in quickly. The frustrations have been growing that this humanitarian response is being held back because of difficulties of access."
Holmes cited an urgent need to dispose of a large number of human corpses and livestock before they spread diseases to an already vulnerable population.
"The situation is increasingly desperate on the ground," he said. "I am disappointed by the progress we've seen since yesterday."
Holmes said that only two World Food Program officials have been issued visas to enter the country, leaving more than 40 U.N. relief workers stranded in Bangkok. Holmes said that two Asian disaster response officials were allowed into the country but that two others who had been cleared Wednesday to enter the country were turned back at the last minute.
Holmes also urged Burma to allow more foreign naval vessels to respond to the crisis. Burma has allowed some neighboring countries to pitch in, but it has refused to allow U.S., French or British ships to respond.
Holmes said Burmese authorities have insisted that relief workers be accompanied by Burmese nationals and that the government has refused to waive visa restrictions and time-consuming customs procedures. But he reiterated his belief that it would be unwise to force the government to allow the distribution of relief supplies.
Shortly after the disaster, the Burmese military authorities said they would welcome international help. Analysts are split over whether their continuing delays are caused by the generals having trouble overcoming their traditional xenophobia, particularly toward Westerners, by simple bureaucracy, or both.
The Burmese government has said the cyclone killed at least 22,000 people, with 40,000 more unaccounted for. Shari Villarosa, head of the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, told reporters Wednesday she was hearing indications that the death toll could rise to 100,000, the AP reported. She did not elaborate.
City residents are facing the prospect of weeks without electricity, a worsening shortage of drinking water and spiraling food prices, as authorities slowly begin the massive task of cleaning up and repairing the city's shattered infrastructure. According to the government, 671 people were killed in and around the city.
State-controlled newspapers have appealed for patience and public understanding of the challenge confronting the authorities, while state television has aired images of soldiers delivering aid goods. But among middle-class residents of the colonial-era former capital, anger is growing at the military, which many people see as having been slow to respond to the catastrophe.
Five days after the storm, many residents were still working to clear away decades-old trees that once lined streets but now, fallen, choke them. "Around my neighborhood, the men are going out with saws and choppers from the kitchen," Ma Thanegi, a prominent Burmese writer, said in a telephone interview.