Burma death toll jumps to 78,000

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The official death toll for Burma’s cyclone disaster has jumped to almost 78,000 people, with nearly 56,000 missing, according to state TV.

Previously, Burma was giving a toll of 43,000 dead and 28,000 missing while the Red Cross and United Nations had estimated a death toll above 100,000.

Aid agencies are frustrated at the slow progress of aid to areas worst hit.

Cyclone Nargis battered southern regions of Burma, including the Irrawaddy Delta, on 2-3 May.

A BBC reporter in the delta this week saw little sign of official help and foreign aid workers have been barred from the area.

Heavy rain has been lashing the region, compounding the misery of survivors.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, John Holmes, is due to visit Rangoon, Burma’s main city, on Sunday in a bid to persuade the military government to grant more access to UN relief workers and expand its aid effort.

Earlier, the EU’s top aid official, Louis Michel, was denied permission to visit the delta region. He said he was given no explanation why disaster emergency experts were being refused visas.

However, Burma – also known as Myanmar – has promised to take foreign diplomats on a tour of the region this weekend.

UN mission

The Burmese blamed the sudden increase in the death toll on difficulties they have had confirming what has happened to people in the worst-affected areas.

Water alert

According to the Red Cross, aid agencies have been able to reach only around 20% to 30% of cyclone victims and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of diseases such as dysentery because of lack of clean water.

“If clean water isn’t available, it’s going to be the biggest killer in the post-disaster environment,” Thomas Gurtner told The Associated Press.

“Food is urgent but you die in three days from acute diarrhoea. You die of starvation in a period of weeks.

“The immediate life-savers are water and shelter.”

The Association of South East Asian Nations is due to hold a high-level meeting in the coming days that is expected to lay the framework for a broader aid donors conference.

Burma’s military leadership has warned that those who hoard or sell aid on the black market will be prosecuted, amid international reports of misuse of some aid shipments.

The generals have also lauded what they said was a 92% approval of a new constitution in a referendum held last Saturday.

Source: BBC

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