Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Aid deliveries pick up as survivors beg for food and water

AGENCIES , YANGON AND BANGKOK

The pace of aid deliveries into Myanmar picked up yesterday, but as thousands of starving cyclone survivors turned out on the roads to beg for food and water, experts said far more was needed.

Myanmar’s ruling generals, who have refused to allow foreigners in to direct the relief effort, were also condemned for holding a national referendum at the weekend despite the devastation in the country’s south.

The regime said there had been a “massive turnout” in the vote to ratify a new constitution, even as aid groups warned the official toll of 60,000 dead or missing could rise unless it focused on helping survivors immediately.

A journalist who traveled from Myanmar’s main city Yangon to the southern delta, which was ground zero in the disaster, reported there were at least 10,000 people lining the sides of the road, waiting for help.

Hungry and thirsty, their numbers were growing fast — and the only help arriving was from religious groups and well-wishers who pulled up to unload packets of rice and noodles.

Elsewhere, corpses still lay rotting in waterways, jostling against the bloated carcasses of buffaloes and other livestock, as children scavenged for fish in polluted canals.

State television meanwhile continued to show pictures of the generals casting their ballots in a vote that critics said was intended only to strengthen their 46-year grip on power.

Despite the serious hurdles, including the impounding of tonnes of supplies at Yangon’s airport, aircraft laden with goods began thundering into the country.

“Some opening-up on the part of the [Myanmar] authorities is allowing us to get these materials to their destination,” said Stephan Goetghebuer, director of operations of medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres. “But it’s no more than a drip-feed, really, given a serious response is more than required.”

In a story that made no mention of the cyclone tragedy, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the referendum was held “successfully ... with massive turnout of the citizens.”

“The question that has to be asked is whether people turned out voluntarily or not and whether they got to vote according to their minds,” said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch in neighboring Thailand. “In any authoritarian country, they try to legitimize themselves through the ballot box.”

Meanwhile, later yesterday a cargo boat carrying the first Red Cross aid sank, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said, dealing a blow to an already stumbling relief effort.

The boat, carrying relief supplies for more than 1,000 people, was believed to have hit a submerged tree trunk in the Irrawaddy Delta, said Andy McElroy, an IFRC official in Bangkok.

The accident highlighted the enormous logistical difficulties of delivering aid to the survivors.

Also see: Myanmar crisis exposes the limits of China’s ability

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