State media in Myanmar,
formerly known as Burma,
increased the death toll to 77,738 and the number missing to almost 56,000 on
Friday. The United Nations said more than 100,000 may have died, while British
officials made earlier estimates as high as 200,000.
On Friday, torrential tropical downpours added to the misery
for the estimated 2.5 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis’ May 3 landfall.
The bad rain threatened to further delay distribution of food, medical supplies
“The situation has worsened in just two days,”
said one volunteer.
The United Nations’ World Meteorological
Center feared earlier in
the week that a second storm forming in the area would turn into another
Outside organizations have urged the military government to
open its doors to international relief agencies but the requests have gone
unanswered and the country’s restrictions on foreign journalists have made
independent assessments difficult.
The United Nations and the European Union have
unsuccessfully tried to negotiate to send equipment and foreign rescue teams
that would help supervise and distribute supplies. Many U.N. officials are
waiting for the Burmese government to approve their visas.
The little supplies being accepted from abroad are
distributed by the military government but the operation is running slowly and
health groups say that if more food and medicine do not reach the needy soon,
starvation and disease will become greater threats.
Many survivors who lost their homes have taken shelter in
crammed schools, monasteries and temporary shelters where health organizations
fear disease could spread. Already some have cases of diarrhea, dysentery and
skin infections but the World Health Organization said they have only recorded
the normal rate of cholera.
Cholera, which is caused by drinking contaminated water, can
spread rapidly and has a mortality rate of up to 50 percent. The WHO sent
emergency health kits and bleach and chlorine tablets to treat the water.
Rotting corpses still line the Irrawaddy River,
but the WHO said they are not a risk to public health.
The country’s ruling generals said Thursday that a
constitutional referendum put to vote on Saturday passed with 92.4 percent
approval. Critics of the regime say the new constitution will further solidify
power among the military leaders and block pro-democracy efforts.
Voting in areas hit by Cyclone Nargis was postponed until
May 24, according to the Los Angeles Times.