Burma raises cyclone death toll to 78,000 but true figure much higher

The official total for the dead in Burma's cyclone disaster jumped to 78,000 yesterday, up from 43,000. The new figure was announced by Burmese state television, which said the number of missing had risen from 28,000 to 56,000.

Nobody knows what relation these figures may bear to reality because access to the stricken zone is tightly controlled by the military junta, though both the Red Cross and the United Nations believe the true figure is much higher even than the new official claims.

The survivors, up to 2.5 million of them, face an increasingly grim struggle for survival. A Reuters reporter who drove from Rangoon to Kuanyangon, about 60 miles south of the former capital, described the dispossessed lining the road, praying for aid.

"Without clothes or shoes, the thousands of men, women and children made destitute by the cyclone could only stand in the mud and rain of the latest tropical downpour, their hands clasped together in supplication at the occasional passing aid vehicle," the reporter wrote. "Any car that did stop was mobbed by children, their grimy hands reaching through a window in search of bits of bread or a T-shirt."

A Burmese volunteer who had travelled to the town commented: "The situation has worsened in just two days. There weren't this many desperate people when we were last here."

The petitioning of the desperate along the region's roads gave the lie to the regime's claim that the crisis is fully under control. The regime appropriates any aid and allows no checks on what becomes of it subsequently. Burma has one of the world's worst records for corruption, according to Transparency International.

As the Burmese authorities continued to guard the disaster area like a prison camp, the Red Cross warned that what the most desperate need now is for clean drinking water, if survivors are not to fall victim to dysentery and other diseases. "If clean water isn't available, it's going to be the biggest killer in the post-disaster environment," Thomas Gurtner, the head of operations for the Red Cross, said in Geneva. "Food is urgent, but you die in three days from acute diarrhoea. You die of starvation in a period of weeks."

Mr Gurtner doubted whether the 27,000 volunteers of the Myanmar Red Cross Society were up to the gigantic task of providing enough clean water. "It requires a major operation which we have neither the material, the logistical nor the staff capacity to do," he admitted. "If the Myanmar Red Cross remains the only agent that can move out, it is going to be a problem. It is one of the only agencies that has been able to distribute extensively."

The military regime continued to make tiny concessions. Foreign diplomats said the regime had agreed to give them a tour of the Irrawaddy delta. They will be the first foreigners permitted to inspect the scene.

The United Nations chief humanitarian affairs officer, John Holmes, flies to Burma tomorrow for talks which he hopes will persuade the generals to open the door to foreign aid. The brave talk in the UN and the EU of delivering aid even if the regime forbade it has fallen silent.

The regime's refusal to share information means that the outside world remains in the dark about the true scale of the disaster and the nature of the survivors' needs. Yesterday, the United Nations admitted it did not have a clue about the size of the emergency.

At a press conference called by several UN agencies in Bangkok, the most basic data was missing, from the number of children orphaned to the extent of disease to the number of refugee camps. They were also unable to say whether survivors were concentrated in camps, on the move, or still living in their destroyed villages.

Even information about deaths and survivors is hazy. The Red Cross fears the total may reach 128,000, the UN estimates that more than 200,000 are dead or missing. An unknown number may have been dragged out to sea by the retreating wave, meaning the true total will never be known.

BBC admits image error

The BBC has admitted that a graphic image it had claimed was of dozens of people killed by the Burmese cyclone had in fact been taken after the Boxing Day tsunami in Sumatra in 2004.

Peter Horrocks, the head of the newly created BBC multimedia newsroom, said the corporation was reviewing the processes by which it receives pictures.

The picture was used during a BBC News report by the correspondent Natalia Antelava on Thursday night, purportedly showing dozens of bodies that Antelava had seen in the Irrawaddy Delta. The picture also featured in an introduction to a report by Huw Edwards. The account was broadcast after Antelava left Burma in order to protect the correspondent, the BBC said.

James Macintyre

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor