The UN's top disaster official headed yesterday to Myanmar, where the government is under mounting pressure to accept a full-scale relief operation for desperate cyclone survivors in need of immediate aid.
The secretive military rulers have let more foreign experts into the country in recent days to help the estimated two million survivors who do not have enough food, water or shelter more than two weeks after the storm struck.
But with emergency relief coordinator John Holmes due to arrive late yesterday, a UN report said needs were still critical, while aid group Save the Children said thousands of children could starve to death within weeks.
“We are extremely worried that many children in the affected areas are now suffering from severe acute malnourishment, the most serious level of hunger,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK.
“When people reach this stage, they can die in a matter of days. Children may already be dying as a result of a lack of food,” she said.
Despite thousands of tonnes of aid being flown in, relief groups want fuller access to help supervise relief in the aftermath of the May 2 to May 3 storm, which the government says left nearly 134,000 people dead or missing.
The UN report said that so far about a quarter of the needy survivors had been reached with foreign aid.
The international community has been toughening the rhetoric on the country’s military rulers, who are deeply suspicious of the outside world and have limited access to foreigners with expertise in managing disaster zones.
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have both raised the specter of crimes against humanity by the junta over its handling of the catastrophe.
Witnesses who managed to sneak through the security cordon around the Irrawaddy Delta said the situation remained dire.
“It was horrible beyond description,” said a foreign businessman. “Most of the devastated huts looked like they were empty at first glance. But there were actually survivors inside,” he said.