Myanmar cyclone toll exceeds 22,000 (Second lead)

May 6th, 2008 - 8:06 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 6 (DPA) The death toll in Cyclone Nargis that ravaged Myanmar reached 22,464 Tuesday, state media reported, putting the number of missing at 41,054 and those injured at 6,708. Myanmar’s military regime Tuesday appealed for international aid amid the rising casualties in the wake of the cyclone, which smashed the country’s central region over the weekend.

An earlier government estimate of the number of victims - as of late Monday - was 14,911 and 2,375 missing in Irrawaddy region and 504 in Yangon.

Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told a press conference in Yangon early Tuesday that the toll in Bogalay township in the Irrawaddy region was close to 10,000 while the toll on Haing Kyi Island was 975, on Mawlamyaing Island 1,835 and in Laputta township about 1,000.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and its commercial hub, the cyclone killed 59 people, the brigadier general said.

The minister reiterated the government’s appeal for foreign aid.

“We need aid from both local and foreign sources,” Kyaw Hsan said. “It is welcome.”

Several countries have pledged aid to Myanmar - including $3 million from the European Union, $750,000 dollars from Germany, $250,000 from the United States and two ships of supplies from India - to cope with the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the cyclone, which has yet to be fully evaluated.

On Tuesday afternoon, neighbouring Thailand flew in more than $300,000 worth of medical and food aid, and a planeload of similar supplies from China was also expected.

Several United Nations agencies met in Bangkok Tuesday to prepare a massive disaster-relief programme for the devastated country, but the emergency assistance is likely to be hampered by the lack of a proper assessment of the catastrophe.

“We are facing enormous difficulties right now in getting out there and unless there is an assessment … the first thing you need is an assessment and then you can gauge your response on that,” said Aye Win, spokesman for the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Yangon.

“The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) sent four teams to the Irrawaddy Delta region last night and today to make assessments, but you’ve got to understand that a lot of boats have been damaged out there and communications are non-existent,” Aye Win added.

Myanmar, deemed a pariah state among Western democracies, has been cut off from most forms of traditional international aid such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and bilateral aid for the past two decades, as part of the West’s economic sanctions on the country.

It still remains unclear whether Myanmar, which has been run by military dictatorships since 1962, would place restrictions on the aid deliveries and foreign aid workers as it has in the past.

“We can’t yet provide any details,” said Major General Maung Maung Swe, minister of social welfare and resettlement, who attended the press conference with the information minister.

The military junta that is ruling Myanmar, listed as one of the world’s least developed countries, has earned a reputation for poor macro-economic management, let alone disaster-management.

Public funds to handle the crisis are severely limited, sources said. Cyclone Nargis has shattered the isolated country at a politically sensitive time as the ruling military junta is preparing to hold a national referendum Saturday to win the approval of a constitution that would essentially cement the military’s dominance in Myanmar’s future elected governments.

Critics of the referendum and the military-drafted constitution have called on the government to postpone the vote to better cope with the humanitarian challenge that it faces in the coming weeks.

While insisting it would go ahead with the referendum, the government announced Tuesday that it would allow the voting to be postponed until May 24 in 47 of the hardest-hit township in Irrawaddy and Yangon.

Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless and without basic utilities by the cyclone, which blew off the Bay of Bengal late Friday, packing winds of up to 200-km per hour, wrecking much of the country’s already fragile infrastructure and threatening its precarious food supply.

Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, was hit hard by the storm, which uprooted trees, toppled electricity and telephone poles, and burst water pipes, leaving the city of several million without basic utilities.

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