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Myanmar Pressured to Let in Aid Workers

BY Admin  May 7, 2008 at 5:05 PM EDT

Myanmar soldiers carrying supplies; AP photo

Corpses were floating in flood waters and survivors tried to reach dry ground in makeshift boats after Cyclone Nargis walloped the Irrawaddy delta region on Saturday. The few stores that opened in the devastated region were stormed by crowds, with fist fights breaking out, the Associated Press reported.

Shari Villarosa, a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar, told reporters that food and water were running short, and the situation in the delta area was getting worse with a growing threat of disease outbreaks.

“People who have lived here all their life have told us that they have never seen destruction on this scale,” Villarosa told the NewsHour on Tuesday. “Without water, the sanitation breaks down, which increases the likelihood of disease.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Myanmar’s government to speed up the arrival of aid workers “in every way possible,” reported the AP.

Myanmar should waive visa requirements and customs clearance for aid supplies, as was done following earthquakes in Pakistan and Iran, said John Holmes, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, according to Reuters.

Holmes said four Asian U.N. officials, who do not need visas because of their nationality, have received clearance to enter Myanmar as an initial assessment team, but that there are as many as 100 U.N. staff members who were still waiting on the visa process.

State television, meanwhile, said Myanmar was accepting aid from any country, and that help has arrived from Japan, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, China, India and Singapore.

State radio and television also gave an updated death toll of 22,980 with 42,119 missing and 1,383 injured from the cyclone and its aftermath.

But Villarosa told reporters that an international nongovernmental organization estimated the deaths could reach 100,000 from quickly worsening conditions in the impoverished nation. She did not identify the aid agency.

“The information that we’re receiving indicates that there may be well over 100,000 deaths in the delta area,” she said, quoted Reuters.

Local aid workers have started distributing water purification tablets, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting and basic medical supplies.

Andrew Kirkwood, head of Save the Children in Yangon, said there is an urgent need for food and water, and many people are getting sick. “The whole place is under salt water and there is nothing to drink. They can’t use tablets to purify salt water,” he said, according to the AP.