State media say 23,335 people died and 37,019 are missing from Cyclone Nargis, which submerged entire villages in the Irrawaddy delta. International aid organizations say the death toll could climb to more than 100,000 as conditions worsen.
The junta has refused to grant access to foreign experts, saying it will only accept donations from foreign charities and governments, and then will deliver the aid on its own.
Despite such obstacles, the U.N. refugee agency sent its first aid convoy by land into Myanmar on Saturday and began airlifting a 110 tons of shelter supplies from its warehouse in Dubai, it said.
Two trucks carrying more than 20 tons of tents and plastic sheets for some 10,000 cyclone victims crossed into the country from northwestern Thailand, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
“This convoy marks a positive step in an aid effort so far marked by challenges and constraints,” said Raymond Hall, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand. “We hope it opens up a possible corridor to allow more international aid to reach the cyclone victims.”
A total of 23 international agencies were providing aid to people in the devastated areas, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“It’s a race against the clock,” Byrs said. “If the humanitarian aid does not get into the country on a larger scale, there’s the risk of a second catastrophe,” she said, adding that people could die from hunger and diseases.
Health experts have warned there was a great risk of diarrhea and cholera spreading because of the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation.
“We have had a week to convince the regime to behave reasonably, and they are still blocking aid,” he said. “So the international community needs to wake up and take bolder steps.”
Myanmar’s rice-growing heartland has been devastated by Cyclone Nargis, threatening long-term food shortages for survivors, experts said Wednesday.
CNN obtained the video in which the survivor said she walked a trail dotted by dead bodies to get to safety, passing a group of about 1,000 homeless people who slept on the street.
“Yes, there is tide coming along. Trees fall over people,” the survivor said. “There are many dead bodies lying under trees. Yes, all people I saw are crying too much and searching for bodies of loved ones. There is bad smell from dead bodies on the way we came from.”
Myanmar, formally known as Burma, last held multiparty elections in 1990, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy handily won. The military junta ignored the results.
Usually the Red Cross complains confidentially to governments about such abuses, leading to criticism of the agency for failing to disclose severe violations. Its silence during the Holocaust was an extreme case, but more recently it was criticized for failing to go public with its knowledge of U.S. abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In denouncing Myanmar, the president of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, said it had repeatedly complained to the government about the abuses, “but the authorities have failed to put a stop to them.”
“The persistent use of detainees as porters for the armed forces is a matter of grave humanitarian concern,” Kellenberger said. “The actions of the authorities have also resulted in immense suffering for thousands of people in conflict-affected areas.”
The armed forces have also committed “numerous acts of violence,” including murder, against civilians in these areas, the Red Cross said. “They have also forced villagers to directly support military operations or to leave their homes.”
The United Nations and Western countries have long accused the junta of human rights abuses, like forcing people to do unpaid manual labor and to serve as army porters, but this was the first time the Red Cross has been so direct.
The Red Cross said it based its complaints on observations made by Red Cross representatives and numerous allegations of abuse it collected during private interviews with thousands of civilians and detainees.
Jim Carrey’s Call To Action for Burma – support the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi. Jim appeals to viewers to take action and e-mail the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to coordinate a strong response by the United Nations Security Council to the situation in Burma.
Please send Ban Ki-moon an email at email@example.com — The Human Rights Action Center and U.S. Campaign for Burma
Like the South African leader Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi has become an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.
For the Burmese people, Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, represents their best and perhaps sole hope that one day there will be an end to the country’s military repression.
More information on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at Dassk.com.
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.