Myanmar’s death toll could increase 15-fold, warns Oxfam

May 11th, 2008 - 1:23 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok/Yangon, May 11 (DPA) Myanmar’s death toll from Cyclone Nargis could increase 15-fold to 1.5 million people in coming weeks unless a tsunami-style relief effort is put in place and access granted to international aid workers, the international agency Oxfam said Sunday. “With the likelihood of 100,000 or more killed in the cyclone there are all the factors for a public health catastrophe which could multiply that death toll by up to 15 times in the coming period,” said Sarah Ireland, Oxfam’s regional director for East Asia.

“We support a call to lift visa restrictions on international aid agencies wanting to assist disaster affected people in Myanmar,” said Ireland, joining a growing chorus of relief experts demanding that Myanmar’s ruling generals grant them visas to expedite a massive emergency aid programme in the areas hard-hit by the cyclone May 2 to 3.

The cyclone has been described as the worst natural disaster in southeast Asia since the Dec 26, 2004, tsunami that claimed a quarter-of-a-million lives in Indonesia, Thailand, India and other countries rimming the Indian Ocean.

The tsunami, coming the day after Christmas, sparked an unprecedented outpouring of international aid that was welcomed by the disaster-struck countries.

Myanmar’s cyclone has been a different story. While its military regime has welcomed international aid, it blocked the entry of international aid workers all of last week, apparently seeking to distribute the aid itself in a cynical publicity stunt.

The cyclone came at a sensitive time politically for the junta, which had planned a referendum Saturday to win approval of a new constitution that will cement its dominant role under future elected governments through a system of appointees in the upper and lower houses.

Ignoring international appeals to postpone the vote and concentrate on helping the cyclone victims instead, the military went ahead with the referendum Saturday, although it was delayed until May 24 in 47 of the worst-hit townships.

International aid workers are growing increasingly frustrated with the generals self-serving strategies in the face of a looming hunger and health crisis in the country, especially in the Irrawaddy delta where the majority of the victims are still without basic supplies because of logistical obstacles and lack of goods.

Citing evidence from previous experiences in disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and Pakistan earthquake in 2005, Oxfam said that without an immediate injection of life-saving aid such as clean water sources, up to 1.5 million people are at risk from diseases such as cholera, typhoid and shigella.

“We are certain the international humanitarian community can make a difference on the ground and that’s why we want to work with the people of Myanmar affected by this terrible disaster,” said Ireland.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reportedly flew in three deliveries of high-energy biscuits over the weekend and the UN Human Rights Commissioner (UNHCR) was allowed to send trucks with 20 tonness of provisions from Thailand into Myanmar.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 80, added to the aid flow Sunday when he donated 2,000 relief kits valued at over 1 million baht ($31,750 ) to victims of the cyclone.

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