Aid Group: 1.5 Million At Risk In Myanmar

(CBS/AP) The tragedy of devastation from last weekend's cyclone in Myanmar is made worse by the ruling junta's apparent disregard for its victims.

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey, reporting from neighboring Thailand, said the scale of the disaster and the extent of the need is becoming clearer as pictures finally come out from the worst-hit areas.

The difference between the damage done and the help being sent in are almost unfathomable.

Winds of up to 120 miles and hour and a storm surge fifteen feet high smashed everything in their path in the Irrawaddy River delta, where survivors are now at risk from malaria and dengue fever, both of which are endemic to the area.

Fresh water has been contaminated by decaying corpses and animal carcasses, as well as sea water.

Tragically, this natural disaster is being turned into a man-made one.

Relief workers have a brutal but time-proven formula to judge the effects of delaying aid to victims in circumstances such as this: multiply the number of dead by fifteen. Sarah Ireland of Oxfam said that, without significant intervention at this point, "then we could be looking at one and a half million people in real danger."

Aid that has been allowed in is being used as much for political purposes as it is to help the victims.

Members of the ruling military junta have made a show of handing out donated relief supplies, in some cases even putting their own names on the boxes.

Cynical as that may seem to us, said Pizzey, an eyewitness who must remain anonymous for his own safety saw another side to the disaster:

"There is something that is wonderful and almost frightening, the behavior of the people," he told CBS News. "They are rebuilding now, they don't deal with the dead, they don't deal with the past, they are not looking for help from anybody."

The flow of relief supplies is speeding up, although not at a rate that comes close to being good enough, and hundreds of relief teams who are prepared and able to help are still being kept out in spite of mounting international pressure.

But the relief effort hasn’t been smooth even ignoring the reception by the Myanmar government. A Red Cross boat carrying relief supplies sank Sunday.

The double-decker boat that sank after apparently hitting a submerged tree trunk was carrying supplies for more than 1,000 people and was the first Red Cross shipment to the disaster area, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

It said all four relief workers on board were safe.

"This is a great loss for the Myanmar Red Cross and for the people who need aid so urgently," said Aung Kyaw Htut, the distribution team leader for the Myanmar Red Cross.

The boat was traveling from Yangon to Mawlamyinegyun, a 12-hour journey, when it sank near Bogalay town, which was extensively damaged by the cyclone, the IFRC said.

IFRC's head in Yangon, Michael Annear, described the sinking as "a big blow."

"Apart from the delay in getting aid to people we may now have to re-evaluate how we transport that aid," he said.

Meanwhile, the government announced the confirmed death toll had jumped to nearly 29,000.

With no access to clean water and sanitation for many of the survivors, that figure can only rise, horrifically.

Piercing The Wall Surrounding A Junta

If the hope had been that the need for international aid would open up Myanmar's isolationist and paranoid military rulers to the generosity of outside world, that hope has so far been dashed," said CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

Even now, this remains a regime that seems more inclined to look after itself that its people.

A political analyst at the Asia Society told Phillips that the country's military leaders feel they must have total control of the people in order to justify their hold on power, and so what they are most afraid of is any interaction with the outside world that could bring change to their government.

Myanmar's military has jealously held onto power throughout the country's sixty years of independence.

Whenever an opposition movement has threatened, either through elections or, last year, through street protests organized by Buddhist monks, the regime has cracked down ruthlessly.

Long-time opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been jailed or under house arrest for most of the past thirty years.

Any outside interference, even disaster relief, seems to be viewed by the junta as the thin edge of a wedge designed to pry power from its hands. Aid agencies have been trying to work through governments in the region that the Junta might be more comfortable dealing with, but there's little to show for these efforts so far.

"I can't even say what messages are getting through to the Burmese military rulers," said Robin Greenwood of Christian Aid. "Are other governments in the region there, the governments they are friendly to, them telling it like it is? Are they getting straight-talking from the Thais or the Chinese or the Indians? I don't know."

The great fear among the aid agencies is that they more they push, the more obstructionist the generals become.


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