Myanmar children 'face starvation'

Aid group warns they could die "within weeks" without aid as leader visits survivors.

    As many as 40 per cent of the needy
    are believed to be children [AFP]

    The cyclone struck southwest Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, earlier this month and the UN believes nearly 134,000 people have died or are missing, while 2.5 million survivors have been affected.

     

    International pressure

     

    Myanmar's military rulers are under growing pressure to accept a full-scale relief operation for cyclone survivors in need of immediate aid.

     

    Thousands of tonnes of aid are being flown in to Myanmar, but relief efforts have been hampered by government restrictions.

     

    In recent days, Myanmar's rulers have begun to let more foreign experts into the country, more than two weeks after the storm, but aid groups still want greater access to help supervise relief efforts.

     

    Ban Ki-moon, the UN general secretary, has announced he will visit the country later this week.

     

    General Than Shwe, Myanmar's military leader, visited cyclone relief camps on the outskirts of Yangon on Sunday.

     

    His visit followed allegations he had shown "indifference" to the country's disaster.

     

    Despite the government's insistence that the relief efforts are going well, witnesses who managed to slip the security cordon around the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta said the situation remains dire.

     

    "It was horrible beyond description," said one foreign businessman.

     

    "Most of the devastated huts looked like they were empty at first glance, but there were actually survivors inside.

     

    "One hut with no roof was full of about 100 people, crouching in the rain. There was no food and no water. Each person had nothing more than the clothes on their bodies, shivering in the cold."

     

    'Man-made catastrophe'

     

    Britain's Asia minister said he thought efforts would soon pay off, with an agreement likely for a UN and Asian-led operation that could solve the impasse.

     

    "I think we're potentially at a turning point, but like all turning points in Burma, the corner will have a few S-bends in it," Mark Malloch-Brown said.

     

    In depth: Myanmar cyclone


    Why Myanmar's generals shun aid



    Disease stalks survivors



    Map: Cyclone's deadly path


    Satellite photos: 

    Before and after



    Timeline: Asia's worst storms



    Picture gallery



    Video: Survivor tells her story



    Video: An emerging epidemic

    But the minister's optimism follows comments by Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, who earlier labelled the military's holding back of aid as "inhuman" and said what had been a natural disaster was becoming "a man-made catastrophe".

     

    John Holmes, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, was due to arrive in Myanmar late on Sunday to assess the situation and plead with Myanmar's military leaders for greater co-operation with relief agencies.

     

    A day earlier, officials gave a guided tour of the country's cyclone-hit regions to foreign diplomats and aid workers based in Myanmar.

     

    The diplomats were taken into an area which has been closed off to foreigners, but it was "not good enough to get a clear picture of the damage", according to one diplomat.

     

    "What they showed us looked very good, but they are not showing us the whole picture," Chris Kaye, Myanmar director for the UN's World Food Programme, said.

     

    As pressure mounts on Myanmar's allies to exercise their power, Southeast Asian foreign ministers are due to meet in Singapore on Monday for talks on how to deal with their neighbour.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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