Massive Burma cyclone toll challenges agencies

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As the confirmed death toll from a cyclone and associated tidal wave in Burma passes 22,000, Catholic and other aid agencies are scrambling to deliver immediate relief to tens of thousands of isolated victims.

A further 41,000 people are still missing as the scale of the tragedy becomes clear four days after the disaster, news reports say.

Meanwhile, Caritas Australia welcomed the move by the Burmese military junta to allow access to international aid agencies.

"With the full extent of the impact of the disaster still unfolding, the deployment of international assistance is urgent", said Caritas Australia CEO Jack de Groot.

"The latest reports suggest ten thousand people have been killed in the township of Bogalay alone suggesting tens of thousand more may have also perished along the route of the cyclone.

In addition hundreds of thousands of people require immediate access to shelter, food and clean water. The humanitarian need is enormous and we will need a massive emergency effort to assist the injured and stop the spreading of disease," Mr de Groot said.

"The affected area of the Irrawaddy Delta is the rice bowl of Burma, the largest per capita consumers of rice in the world. This will have enormous impact on the supply of rice in Burma for the coming year", he added.

"Infrastructure was crumbling in Burma before the cyclone. Now it is shattered. Reports suggest as much as 95% of buildings along the Irrawaddy river have been decimated.

"This response will require a long term commitment for international development agencies that could take years to complete. Caritas Australia has worked in Burma for almost two decades and is committed to the long term needs of the people of Burma.

"The Burma regime must focus on the needs of their people at this time," Mr de Groot said.

Caritas Internationalis Emergency Response Team Leader Dolores Halpin-Bachmann said, "there is an urgent need for access to aid workers to the affected areas so that we can assess the damage, start to provide food, shelter, clean water and medical assistance.

"We've only been receiving sketchy reports, but they're enough to make us concerned about the humanitarian situation. Nagris hit a major city with a population of 5 million people. In that environment, we know how important it is for people to get access to clean water to stop the spread of disease.

"Caritas knows from experience that the first few days are crucial to saving lives. Following the Asian tsunami in 2004, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved because of the rapid and effective response of the humanitarian community in the early phase of the emergency. The government must do all it can to help aid workers respond."

Pope Benedict also expressed his sadness at the tragedy.

Caritas Australia is launching an appeal to assist those affected.


SOURCE

Caritas opens Burma appeal:  welcomes aid access (ReliefWeb, 6/8/08)

Rising death toll feared for tragedy with 'echoes of Banda Aceh' (The Age, 7/5/08)

Caritas at work in cyclone-devastated Myanmar (Zenit, 6/8/08)

Pope Prays for Strength and Comfort for People of Myanmar (Vatican Radio, 6/8/08)

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