Burma death toll 'could reach 1.5 million'

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The Independent Online

Oxfam warned yesterday that 1.5 million people could die needlessly in Burma as the first outbreaks of disease were reported in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, and many of the worst-hit areas went an eighth day without aid.

International agencies called on the country's secretive military junta to allow immediate access to those stranded without food, clean water and medicines. Cholera, typhoid and malaria could take hold within days as lack of food and shelter weakened the resistance of survivors. More than 100,000 people are believed to have died in the 130mph winds and storm surges that hit the country last weekend.

"Supplies will run out unless more aid is allowed into the country," said Christian Aid's Burma expert, Ray Hasan. "Partners are telling us that there are outbreaks of disease already. There is no time to lose." The UN World Food Programme said it had never seen such delays in dealing with a modern humanitarian crisis and described the official response as "unprecedented".

The military authorities are continuing to delay giving visas to foreign aid officials, and insist on taking control of such shipments as are permitted.

The UN World Food Programme said yesterday it was sending more supplies, even though the first two plane loads had been impounded. Twenty-three agencies were providing aid to people in the devastated areas, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A UN flight with 33 tons of plastic sheets, sanitation items and mosquito nets got clearance to take off from Brindisi, Italy, last night, but many organisations were awaiting government clearance. "It's a race against the clock," Ms Byrs said. "If the humanitarian aid does not get into the country on a larger scale, there's the risk of a second catastrophe."

An estimated 300,000 people have received some help since last Saturday, mainly from aid agencies already based in the country.

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