Rush to aid cyclone survivors

Aid agencies say delays in getting entry clearance holding up relief efforts.

    With little outside help, monks and residents have launched make-shift clean-up efforts [AFP]

    Aid agencies are rushing to gather much needed emergency supplies for cyclone-hit Myanmar, but say delays in obtaining clearance from Myanmar's military rulers are holding up relief efforts.


    With the toll continuing to climb, estimates of the number of homeless survivors are still scarce.


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    According to the United Nations office in Yangon – the former capital, itself badly-hit by the storm – there is an urgent need for plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, cooking equipment, mosquito nets, health kits and food.


    It said the situation outside Yangon was "critical, with shelter and safe water being the principal immediate needs".


    On Tuesday, the UN said it had received a "careful green light" from the government to begin aid deliveries, but many other agencies said they were still encountering delays.


    In Yangon itself by early Tuesday, city residents were queuing up to share bottled water and there was still no electricity supply, more than three days after the storm hit.


    The European Commission has said it will give around $3m worth of assistance.


    The US Agency for International Development also set aside $3m to help relief efforts, up from an initial emergency contribution of $250,000.


    The additional commitment of funds comes even as Myanmar continues to resist entry for a US disaster assessment team.


    Yangon residents face long queues
    for access to clean water [AFP]

    Geore Bush, the US president, announced Washington would make navy warships availabe for rescue efforts and urged Myanmar to quickly allow entry to the US team.


    Immediate neighbour Thailand has airlifted more than $400,000 worth of food and medical supplies. Singapore has pledged $200,000.


    India, one of Myanmar's closest allies, has said two naval ships loaded with food, tents, blankets, clothing and medicine would sail for Yangon soon.


    Indonesia pledged $1m in cash and supplies, as did China, Myanmar's biggest trading partner and a staunch diplomatic ally.


    "As a friendly neighbour, China will provide help and aid to Myanmar's reconstruction efforts," state media quoted Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, as saying.


    South Korea's foreign ministry also said it planned to provide Myanmar with $100,000 worth of aid.


    Myanmar's ruling generals have previously shunned offers of international assistance and place tight restrictions on the few international aid agencies allowed to operate in Myanmar.


    With the death toll continuing the rise, Nargis looks set to be the worst storm to hit Asia since 1991 when 143,000 were killed in Bangladesh.


    Tidal surge


    Cyclone Nargis was a category three storm when it hit Myanmar's densely-populated Irrawaddy Delta region late on Friday - the same strength as Hurricane Katrina when it struck the US city of New Orleans in 2005.


    Winds peaking at more than 200 kph were followed by a huge tidal surge that swept through the vulnerable low-lying delta towns, wiping out entire communities.


    The few aerial pictures coming in from the region hint at the devastation, but the full impact is still being assessed.


    Al Jazeera's correspondent in Myanmar, who cannot be named for safety reasons, says that the situation in the delta is dire and, as fresh reports come in, is getting worse by the hour.


    The delta region is Myanmar's most important agricultural region, so the impact of the disaster is likely to be long-lasting.


    Reports from towns such as Laputta, Paduya and Bogalay paint a picture of almost total destruction.


    Under-developed, impoverished and with only a basic infrastructure, the region is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.


    Most homes are built only of flimsy bamboo and wood, offering little protection from a storm of the ferocity of Nargis.


    In any case, many survivors complain they were given little or no warning from the government of the approaching storm.


    Witnesses say most recovery work has been undertaken by monks and local residents using what tools they can find. Police and military assistance has been patchy.


    "The regime has lost a golden opportunity to send the soldiers as soon as the storm stopped to win the heart and soul of people," one retired civil servant told Reuters news agency.


    "Where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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