Monday, 19 May 2008

Asean medical workers to be allowed into Myanmar

Asean medical workers to be allowed into Myanmar

CYCLONE-stricken Myanmar will accept foreign medical workers to help with the relief effort, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) agreed on Monday.

'Myanmar will accept international assistance,' Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told a news conference.

More details to come.

Situation at Kunchankone: Interview with a villager

May 18, 2008 (DVB) – “…The situation at Kunchankone at the moment is not even good to look at. Here, both humans and animals are dead. No help came.

DVB: It is only in town or rural areas?

“It is happening in rural areas. Tawchaung village, Kunchankone Township. On the day the storm struck, all the homes were struck down in that area. Many people were dead. In our village alone, it is estimated that 200 died. For the whole township, there are 500 villages and we estimated that more than 5,000 died. That is the death toll.

DVB: How are the survivors surviving?

“At the moment, we are waiting for donators to survive. Our village is at least five miles away from town. It takes from dawn till dusk to go back and forth…

DVB: How about your livelihood?

“As our cattle are dead, we can’t do farming. And the paddy fields are destroyed and we are postponing farming. We can’t sell jungle produce such as bamboos and firewood. No one buys them. Therefore, the situation is quite bad.

DVB: Does the government do any effective thing in that area?

“The authorities only gave one ‘pyi’ of rice for one household. But it was not free. Each house had to pay 100 (kyat). The house with big number didn’t have enough to eat. They gave no extra. Now they give nothing…As far as I know they gave only three days…

“…I have been to 10 villages. Some villages have no school, all wiped out. Our village school collapsed…the school will start on the 25th (of May)…At some places, they are instructing the monks to teach…

DVB: How is the water situation? Do you have it?

“The drinking water is in Kunchankone is quite bad…people have to go to the surrounding villages to get water for consumption…At the moment private donors are leaving some pure water bottles. We have to depend on it to live…areas that have no roads don’t have water as donors couldn’t reach them…

DVB: before the storm, what was the main livelihood of the people?

“Most of them grow rice, farm, sell firewood and bamboos…and fishing. Now, almost of them are destroyed.

DVB: How is Burma’s rescue and relocation department helping you?

“Currently, there is no plan like that…In our village there are 400 households. They gave 1 yard of plastic sheet a family…even that, it is not for all houses…

DVB: As there is no enough water, I heard that there is an outbreak of diarrhoea. How is the health situation?

“Dysentery is the main killer…There was a funeral the other day. They say that it is mainly dysentery. That will surely happen because the animals are starting to die in our area…from unknown diseases. The water is so impure and the animals died from drinking it…some donors are carrying out their own security measures to give aid, with machetes…some villages came to loot the cars when other villages were being donated…we are facing this kind of problem in Kunchankone…

DVB: A company car which came to donate aid was confiscated in front of Kunchankone town hall, you said?

“All the materials were confiscated…rice, biscuits, beans, oil were taken away…a friend who is staff there told me…(it happened on the 14th)…people from (Battalion (77) and township authority chairman were busying themselves there. They stop cars, searched them and confiscated them on suspicion. Currently, donors come with monks…in this way there is no searching as they are monks…

DVB: You might have heard that foreign countries are on the bay (Andaman Seas)…if they come and help what would you think of them?

“As they themselves are coming to donate to us, we have to welcome them more. Currently, we heard about it in news on radio, but nothing has arrived into our hands. Speaking as a refugee, if they themselves come, it will be much better…

DVB: If they give aid into the hand of the SPDC (ruling junta), wouldn’t it be effective?

“…what we are seeing now is, they are keeping these snacks, life saving tents for themselves. Roofs, medicines are available in shops. We haven’t got them but you can buy them in shops.

DVB: What else do you have to say?

“In our area, robbery is rampant…four days after the storm, villagers who had nothing to eat robbed rich people near our village. They had to ask the army to keep law and order…another person who went to Dedaye for shopping was murdered…

“…on the day the storm struck, in Kunchankone detention centre, some inmates were killed by the inundation. They didn’t open the door for them and they died…They took the corpses and dumped them into the streams…I know because a member of local authority told me.

Please come quickly say people of Burma

May 18, 2008 (DVB) – “…We want the international community to enter the country by any means…as it is very important to save lives…therefore, we want them to enter as soon as possible. They (the authorities) are unable to save people and they must accept people who could. There is nothing more important than human life.” (Reverend U Pyinnyar Wunthar, Buddhist monk)

“We are away from Cyclone Nargis and we don’t know the situation. But the Abbot of Thidagu Reverend Nyan Neisara, U Zagana (renowned comedian) said in the media that there are many people who are in trouble as the result of the storm and villages disappeared, people don’t have food and drink. People are in trouble. As the majority are accepting thus, as for us, the sooner the better. Whichever country comes to our country and helps, we like it the more. Here (in Burma), I heard that there are only 6 or 7 helicopters for rescue. And in the delta region, roads are in ruin and it is not very easy to travel on water paths…” (U Myin Lwin, National League for Democracy, Kyaupadaung, Upper Burma)

“It is time the international aid comes in. We are in trouble. All the people want it to come in. They are all the people who would welcome with garlands. Our hometown heard that the Americans, French and British are here and ready to come. If the American army, the French and British came, there are many people who will welcome them with garlands…people are feeling very dejected and we are in desperate need of the international aid.” (U Aye Khaing, National League for Democracy, Kyaukpadaung, Upper Burma)

“…The military government has no ability to help Cyclone Nargis victims. We support any kind of international aid whether it be the US or EU…We cannot say whose are our members due to security reasons inside the country.” (Myint Oo, New Generation Democratic Force, Burma)

“Our country desperately needs foreign expert knowledge, machinery and technicians, monetary and material helps and in this kind of situation, it is important that the government needs to allow them to come in urgently. If they do not do that, the UN should give necessary helps needed to protect lives, in accordance with the international law. We have great desire for the UN to intervene. If they do come, I will welcome them gladly as a monk and as a citizen.” (A Buddhist Abbot, Mandalay, Upper Burma)

“…I heard from the government media that the government donated 750 tents. Would they be sufficient while hundred of thousands of people are in trouble? As a civilian from Magwe Division, I feel great sadness and I don’t want anyone to be in trouble…In order to normalise situation, I want the international troops including the UN to come in as soon as possible. We also want to notify all the people who want to help, now waiting in international waters and the government concerns that we demand you to come in as soon as possible and help.” (Aung Hlaing Tha, National League for Democracy, Thayet, Upper Burma)

“We the people want the international aid troops to come in as soon as possible…If we are ignored, it will be an insult to humanity. We agree and accept the entry and we the audience are waiting when they are going to come in. We are praying for their entry…only then would we get help. Inside the country, the government could do nothing. Private helps are not effective. Even if they are effective, the size of destruction is so vast that it is necessary that the air force and navy of the EU, US, etc need to come in as soon as possible. People are readily waiting for the troops to help.” (A schoolteacher)

Than Shwe must go and now

Mizzima News

Monday, 19 May 2008 - If there is anything that the killer Cyclone Nargis, which lashed Burma, has revealed about the country, it is – poverty, inhumanity and the sheer brutality of the military rulers. The cyclone struck Burma's Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon division on May 2 and 3, creating havoc among poor farmers who lived in houses which were not even properly constructed. A million have died over 2.5 million are homeless and starving while a heartless dictator schemes to hang on to power.

It also revealed how the people of Burma have been living below the poverty line under a repressive military junta, despite being one of the most promising nations during its Independence in 1948. It was once known as 'the rice bowl of Southeast Asia.'

More than two weeks after the cyclone struck Burma, the country's rulers are not bothered to undertake comprehensive rescue and support operations for the survivors. The death toll and devastation from the cyclone remains anybody's guess. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that more than 100,000 people died and the United Nations says 2.5 million people are affected.

While it is clear that the scale of devastation and death caused by Nargis is beyond the capability of any single country to cope with, the dead-end response and the tight leash on international aid workers to go into the worst affected regions hit by the cyclone proves the junta's brutality, callousness and irresponsibility towards the people. While over 100,000 died and more than 2.5 million Burmese peoples' lives have been devastated, the country's rulers went on with its planned referendum on a draft constitution, which critics said will entrench its rule.

This once again exposes that the military junta, which comprises the latest group of generals who maintain an unbroken rule in Burma since 1962, do not care if millions of its people die. They care only about one thing: to retain power. They are safe and sound in remote bunker-built Nay Pyi Taw.

Senior General Than Shwe is guilty of genocide, again in Burma.

Sources in the military establishment said, several low ranking officers and even Than Shwes' longtime allies ranged in the top ranks, have begun to sympathize with the people's sufferings and have suggested to the top boss to allow free flow of aid and access to aid workers to relieve the people's suffering. Several low raking officers in the military themselves have been affected as several of them belong to the region, hit hardest by the cyclone, and or have relatives and near and dear ones in the region.

Than Shwe, according to sources, is obsessed with clinging to power and continuing the legacy of military rule in the country. So much so that even when Burma's Meteorology and Hydrology department chief warned him of the cyclone and the scale of devastation it could cause, Than Shwe silenced him saying 'Don't announce anything that will create panic among the people before the referendum.'

Cyclone Nargis hit Haing Gyi Island on Friday, May 2 completely destroying the fishing town, and swept its way to other parts of the Delta and reached Rangoon on May 3, exactly a week before the junta's dream referendum. The Irrawaddy delta is the rice bowl of Burma. What will happen in the near future to peoples' staple food in the country– rice – one can imagine.

The junta, seeing the scale of devastation, reluctantly postponed the referendum date for 47 townships that have been hardest hit by the cyclone to May 24, while the rest of the country continued with the May 10 polling. Five days later, on May 15, the junta announced, what has been already predicted, that the constitution has been approved by 92.4 percent of voters, again without looking at the faces of cyclone survivors who are yet to vote.

Who on earth besides Than Shwe and his clique will believe in such a popular mandate for the brutal regime! Critics point out that there could have been a better way of telling a pure lie, when the junta said the voter turnout was 99.07 percent.

Now, more than two weeks after the cyclone struck, the junta continues to impose restrictions on the movement of aid workers. Except the junta's business cronies -- the 43 companies that have been assigned to do re-construction work in Irrawaddy delta -- other domestic NGOs and social workers are given access to the delta region only after they bribe the local authorities.

"One NGO had to give 1,000,000 Kyats [approximately 900 USD] to the local Mahyahkah [township authorities] to go into the delta region and conduct relief work," an aid worker in Rangoon said. No international aid workers have been allowed to go into the Irrawaddy delta, while the only few who went, have managed to sneak in.

While aid from the international communities including Burma's neighbouring countries have begun trickling into the country in the past week, the UN has estimated that only less than 25 percent of the affected people received initial relief.

Villagers in the cyclone impacted areas are seen lining up, at the sight of any vehicle that might be carrying aid for them. For these people, it does not matter where the aid comes from. All they care for is relief material that could alleviate their miseries.

The UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon had warned that if aid continues to be delayed and rescue work is held up, a second wave of death will soon follow. Doctors, both local and international, have said cases of Diarrhea, Cholera and Asthma have been detected among the affected, and that the 'Second wave of Death' has begun to strike.

Doctors in the delta region said, at least 10,000 children are now affected by Cholera and there is growing concern over the rate at which the disease is spreading. Aid agencies have warned that thousands of Burmese children will starve to death in a few days time unless food is rushed to them. There is no more time for the international community to wait before the second wave of death strikes. Lives need to be saved.

It is time now that the cyclone survivors receive direct emergency aid and relief materials from whoever is giving. The military junta in Burma has once again failed to protect and help its own people who are in dire need.

Than Shwe, who refuses to open up the country for international aid agencies to come in, is safe in his newly built jungle capital while millions of Burmese people are on the verge of death.

He even refused to answer telephone calls by the UN Chief Ban ki-moon who is now planning to travel to Burma this week in a last ditch effort of the world body to allow free flow of aid and access to the cyclone impacted areas. After killing Buddhist monks on the streets, Than Shwe is now responsible for the death of millions of people and those dying everyday.

The international community has waited long enough. It is already now more than two weeks after the cyclone hit Burma that international aid is yet to reach most parts of Irrawaddy delta. The words-but-no-action of the world community has taken the lives of many Burmese people. It has pledged substantial amount of support and relief for Burma but it is also its responsibility to ensure that it reaches the cyclone survivors.

In September last year, when Buddhist monks led protests, the world community had waited until the Burmese military junta brutally cracked down killing hundreds of people and detaining thousands of protesters including activists and the highly revered Buddhist monks.

Now with Than Shwe, the junta head, refusing to help the people of Burma and exposing cyclone victims to death, the international community must act and fast. It becomes a joke when Than Shwe allows in about a hundred medical doctors from Burma's neighbouring countries for relief work. A hundred for 2.5 million affected cyclone survivors!

Than Shwe definitely does not view the cyclone's impact as a problem, leave alone a catastrophe, as he is more worried about his stranglehold on power. But just for one man, will the Burmese people be deprived of their right to receive humanitarian assistance and see their relatives and friends dying slowly?

The bottom line is: Than Shwe must go immediately. Whatever people in Burma need to do now, it has to be towards the removal of the heartless dictator to save the lives of millions of Burmese people.

UN leaders given access to Myanmar cyclone zone

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar's military regime, which has barred almost all foreigners from its cyclone disaster zone, allowed the U.N.'s humanitarian chief into the Irrawaddy delta for a brief tour Monday, a U.N. official said.

John Holmes, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, flew by helicopter into an area where hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims are suffering from hunger, disease and lack of shelter.

The U.N. official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak with the press, said that after a few hours in the delta Holmes would return to Yangon to meet with international aid agencies.

In what appeared to be a thaw in the junta's dealings with the United Nations, the government also gave permission for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to travel to the delta after his arrival here Wednesday, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

Earlier, junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe had refused to take telephone calls from Ban and had not responded to two letters from him, Montas said. Holmes, who arrived in Yangon Sunday, was to deliver a third letter.

A team of 50 Chinese medics arrived in Yangon on Sunday night, following in the footsteps of medical personnel from India and Thailand, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. On Monday some 30 Thai doctors and nurses began working in the delta — exceptions to the regime's ban on foreign aid workers in the region.

The U.S.-based disaster relief agency AmeriCares said the regime had cleared its initial 15-ton shipment of medicine and medical equipment into Myanmar.

Myanmar will also work with its fellow member countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, or ASEAN, to help cyclone-stricken areas in a rehabilitation drive that will be planned over the next several days, the newspaper said, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu.

A senior British official hinted a breakthrough may also be near that would allow foreign military ships to join the relief effort, but warnings grew of a potential second wave of death among children hard-hit by the lack of fresh water and proper shelter.

Than Shwe made his first visit to a refugee camp Sunday, patting the heads of babies and shaking hands with cyclone survivors, amid growing international criticism over the government's handling of the crisis.

Myanmar's state-run media lashed out at critics, detailing the regime's response. State television featured footage of the junta leader inspecting supplies and comforting victims in relatively clean and neat rows of blue tents.

According to the report, Than Shwe traveled from the capital, Naypyitaw, in the northern jungles, to relief camps in the Hlaing Thar Yar and Dagon suburbs of Yangon.

Some survivors clasped their hands and bowed as he and a column of military leaders walked past. At least 78,000 people were killed in the May 2-3 storm and another 56,000 are missing.

In the devastated Irrawaddy delta to the south of Yangon, the situation remained grim.

In the city of Laputta, hundreds of children covered their heads from the rain with empty aluminum plates as they lined up in front of a private donation center. They were given rice, a spoonful of curry and a potato.

"Children only. Please. Children only," shouted a man who pushed back a crowd of adults. He explained they were feeding children and the elderly first because food supplies are limited and adults can still fend for themselves.

In one of the few positive notes of the day, British Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he believes the rulers of Myanmar — also known as Burma — may soon relent on allowing military ships to join in the relief effort, especially if Asian go-betweens are involved.

"I think you're going to see quite dramatic steps by the Burmese to open up," he said.

Myanmar's leaders, angered by criticism of their handling of the crisis, stepped up their rhetoric Sunday even amid warnings by Save the Children that thousands of children face starvation.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said in an editorial Sunday that the government, "mobilizing the cooperation of the people, social organizations and departments," has rushed to carry out relief and rehabilitation tasks.

"Necessary measures are being taken constantly to attend to the basic needs of the people in the relief camps, while specialists are making field trips to the storm-struck areas to provide health care," it said.

The publication accused foreign news agencies of broadcasting false information that has led international organizations to assume that the government is rejecting aid for storm victims.

"Those who have been to Myanmar understand the actual fact," it said.

State-run radio said the government has so far spent about $2 million for relief work and has received millions of dollars worth of relief supplies from local and international donors.

Still, aid agencies say some 2.5 million survivors are in desperate need of help — food, shelter from intermittent monsoon rains, medicines, clean drinking water and sanitation. A U.N. report said Saturday that emergency relief from the international community had reached only 500,000 people.

Save the Children, a global aid agency, expressed concern Sunday about the thousands of children now suffering from severe acute malnourishment, the most serious level of hunger.

"When people reach this stage, they can die in a matter of days," said Jasmine Whitbread, who heads the agency's operation in Britain.

U.N. and other major international aid agencies such as World Vision have been forced to depend on their limited local Myanmar staff to distribute aid in the delta, and say a much greater effort is needed if more diseases and deaths are to be prevented.

Although U.S., British and French warships loaded with aid are just off its coastline, Myanmar has refused to let them join in relief efforts.

Malloch-Brown said Britain and Myanmar had reached a kind of consensus over the direction of the aid operation under which Asian countries such as India, China, Thailand and Indonesia would take the lead in conjunction with the U.N.

"There is now a leadership which the Burmese can accept and we can work through to deliver our assistance," he said.

Asean opens emergency meeting on Myanmar cyclone disaster

SOUTHEAST Asian foreign ministers opened an emergency meeting here on Monday to find ways of escalating delivery of foreign aid to cyclone victims in Myanmar amid resistance from its military regime.

The ministers observed a minute's silence in remembrance of the victims of Asia's twin tragedies this month: the Myanmar cyclone and last week's killer earthquake in China.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) convened the talks more than two weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit southern Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta region on May 2, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

Aid organisations say survivors may be facing food shortages and disease because of the military junta's slow response and refusal to allow foreign workers to help distribute relief goods and provide emergency services.

Myanmar sprang a surprise ahead of the Singapore talks by floating a proposal to gather aid donors in its main city Yangon, which suffered cyclone damage, instead of neighbouring Thailand's more accessible capital Bangkok.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said Myanmar wanted to hold the 'pledging conference' as early as May 22 or 23.

Singapore currently holds the rotating chair of Asean, which has been criticised for its delayed reaction to regional crises and failure to force Myanmar's ruling generals to respect human rights and promote democracy. -- AFP-Straits Time

Deep into the delta

A survivor of Cyclone Nargis tries to salvage parts of what remains
of his home in Burma's Irrawaddy delta.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In his third dispatch, Jonathan Pearce describes the scene as a team from the aid agency Merlin delivers supplies to outlying villages near the town of Laputta

The quayside in Laputta looks out onto utter desolation. The sky is dark and it's still raining. From here a series of low-lying islands stretch across 50 miles of the Irrawaddy delta. Around 300,000 people used to live out there. In the desperate struggle to get help to the survivors of the cyclone, their plight is the most critical.

The closest island appears like a huge sandbank, with only a few stumps jutting out of the ground where houses once stood. The quay where I stand has been all but obliterated; it's now covered by mountains of rotting debris dumped by the tidal surge. A 60-metre (200ft) steamer lies half out of the water. I wait while a small boat tries to land, carrying a team from Merlin.

My colleague explains what he has seen:
There are still people out there, but in the zone we covered they have all migrated to one main settlement. We passed 16 villages that were completely deserted. All we saw were dead bodies. Most are almost unidentifiable now. I could make out the shape of a woman clinging to a small child, both twisted around a tree stump.

In most of the settlements there were no signs of houses at all. They were just patches on the ground, even the debris had been washed away. We went to a village called Pyin Thwin, and were told there were 2,800 people surviving. They said 200 people had died on the island, and 4,000 in 16 villages nearby. A few buildings made from brick and concrete were partially intact, but all the straw houses were destroyed.

They had received a delivery of rice every two days, but said it was barely a quarter of what they needed. I saw a group of women preparing a large bowl of prawns they had just caught. All four walls of the school were still standing and inside people were trying to dry-out rice from their store.

Those that had moved onto this island from smaller settlements were in the worst state. They had made shelter from whatever scraps of straw matting or plastic they could find.
The Merlin team had delivered water purification, plastic bowls and soap to the island. In these conditions the most important health priority is to drink safe water and keep clean. Without that, acute diarrhoea can claim lives in a matter of days. The villagers reported about 100 cases of people who needed medical care, most of them suffering from burns caused by the hail and wind.

A short distance from our base more survivors are arriving and taking shelter in the courtyards of a temple. The rain is now beating down harder than ever. The situation here is more critical than at the camp I visited yesterday.

Long sheets of blue plastic have been attached to the walls of the temple and stretched across the courtyard. They are raised barely 1.2 metres (4ft) above the ground. Underneath hundreds of people are huddled together in rows ten deep. Babies are crying, but almost everyone else is silent. They just keep staring out into the relentless rain.

Merlin's team distributed 500 metres (1,650ft) of plastic sheeting earlier today, but it's overwhelming to try to understand how much more help is needed: food, shelter and medical supplies.

I'm staying in a dry room tonight, but I can't sleep. The sound of the rain on the tin roof above me is deafening. All I can see are the faces of people sheltering under plastic and bits of straw.

Jonathan Pearce is an aid worker with British medical agency Merlin - The Guardian

'It's difficult in there. It's like walking a tightrope'

Tim Costello describes the guilt he felt coming home, and the devastation he left behind in Burma. --
Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

By Julia Medew - The Age

TIM Costello has dealt with devastation before. Too many times, he has stood among the ruins of people's homes and lives, among scores of bodies rotting in the streets.

But in Burma, while human suffering in the wake of cyclone Nargis was all around, it was a sense of frustration at being unable to help, at being hampered at every turn in trying to bring in aid, that overwhelmed the World Vision Australia chief.

In his first in-depth interview since returning to Melbourne on Saturday, Mr Costello broke down yesterday as he detailed the infuriating hurdles he faced in a country that seemed more focused on its elections than saving its people's lives.

"The truth is we've never had such a limited space to mount a humanitarian effort that demanded such a commensurable response to the suffering," he said. "This cyclone is much bigger for Myanmar than the tsunami was for Sri Lanka or Thailand, much bigger."

After flying into the country's south on May 8 with one of few visas granted to foreigners, Mr Costello said he felt like Robinson Crusoe as he raced to convince the Government that his organisation was there only to help. "It's difficult in there. It's like walking a tightrope."

One government official quietly suggested Mr Costello disregard the junta and take supplies into the worst-hit areas. He was tempted. "I thought, sure, I had a green light from him, but I knew that the Government's attitude was that no expats were to go down there." Paramount was Mr Costello's knowledge that one small misstep could derail World Vision's position of trust in Burma, built up over several decades.

It was not until May 10 — a week after the cyclone — that he was allowed to meet a general in Rangoon. Mr Costello said he worked hard to persuade the general that he was not one of the "foreign saboteurs" that the junta feared so much. "I had to explain that we were not there to pull off another Banda Aceh," he said, referring to the free elections that followed journalists and aid organisations moving freely around the Indonesian province after the tsunami.

"I met with this general in an ornately carved room … We told him we had come to ask for three things: a letter to give us access through road blocks, the ability to distribute aid ourselves, rather than through the military, and permission for one of our planes to leave Dubai." He agreed to the first two.

The letter gave World Vision workers unrestricted access to deliver materials such as blankets and rice. But it was not enough.

Foreign aid workers, doctors, sanitation experts, helicopters and boats from across the world continued to be shut out, forced to stand by as contaminated water supplies threatened the health of thousands who, remarkably, have survived to this point.

More than two weeks after the cyclone, Burma has yielded only slightly to international pressure by admitting a team of 80 Asian doctors and, in a rare agreement with international aid agencies, has raised its official toll from the disaster to 77,738 dead and 55,917 missing.

With 750,000 people starving, Mr Costello broke down as he described the guilt of returning home and the cumulative grief of his work. "It's knowing what could have been done," he said. "This is the frustration. Even though it's not in your control and it's inappropriate and neurotic, you still feel it."

Mr Costello, who has been to Sudan, Congo and Indonesia during the tsunami, said he had learnt to "compartmentalise" traumatic situations but that he still came undone every now and again. "You put on a professional persona, you know that if you're going to be shocked and unable to function that it's not going to work. It's later when you get back that the compartments start leaking.

"I can find myself in tears without warning … By and large, apart from it being embarrassing to cry every now and again and have people wondering why I'm blubbering in the middle of telling a joke, I haven't been debilitated by it."

After praising the Australian Government's $25 million aid commitment to Burma, Mr Costello said he was concerned about the impact of the junta's resistance on potential donors.

"There has been no doubt. Australians have not given," he said. "There is deep, deep cynicism in the donor public here in Australia. They think there's no point trying, that it's going into the Government's pockets. In truth, not a cent of our aid is going to the military. "Getting that message through is very difficult because the public's right in saying they have only opened the door ajar for a humanitarian effort when it needs to be flung right open …

"But we must not give up on them. They did not choose their Government."

Cowra aid for Burma

Cowra Rotarians are rallying behind a project actually able to enter and deliver aid to the devastated country of Myanmar.

Recent Cyclone Nargis that affected the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar (Burma) has left unbelievable destruction in the country and over one million people without housing.

News reports suggest the scale of this disaster is assuming the proportions of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

There has been much publicity about the difficulty of getting aid into Myanmar, but Shelter Box is one of the first organisations able to enter the country, obtaining visas and a clear and helpful path from the embassy.

“Burma really needs our help,” Cowra Rotary Club president Con Bunnik said.

“We have already purchased a Shelter Box last year, which is no doubt one of those on its way to Burma, or may have already landed.”

A Shelter Box is a container carrying up to two 10 person dome tents, blankets, water purification tablets, a multi-fuel stove, tools and other essential equipment.

The idea, Mr Bunnik said, is to provide temporary shelter which has both important physical and mental benefits to victims of a natural disaster.

Shelter Box delivered 224 boxes on May 9 from Dubai, followed by 220 boxes from Melbourne, and have chartered a plane for delivery of another 1000 boxes from England where they are prepared.

Australian Rotarians have taken this Rotary project to heart and have launched major fundraising efforts to get more boxes to the devastated area.

Both Cowra and especially Canowindra Rotary Clubs have been heavily involved in fundraising and promoting the Shelter Box concept, with Canowindra businesses already donating enough in the past week to purchase another two Shelter Boxes for Myanmar.

Cowra Rotary Club has issued a similar challenge and welcomes any interested supporters.

For more information on the Cowra Rotary Club’s involvement in the Shelter Box project, contact President Con Bunnik on 63450060.

Cowra Guardian

Burma junta kicks out aid foreign workers

By Kenneth Denby in Rangoon
Times Online

The Burmese authorities have sealed off the cyclone disaster zone from the outside world, expelling foreign aid workers and placing multiple checkpoints along roads into the Irrawaddy delta, to the despair of foreign diplomats and aid workers.

The move came as the UN reported that as many as 2.5 million people were thought to have been affected severely by the cyclone. The Red Cross reported that the death toll from the disaster could reach 127,990.

The isolation of the Delta confirms the growing sense among international organisations that the Burmese junta is never going to allow a massive foreign-led aid effort of the kind that was mounted in several countries after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Aid groups are trying instead to mount a stealth operation in which Western aid is distributed by government organisations, local aid workers, and international staff from countries which the regime regards as friendly and compliant.

Time, though, is running out - not only to avert epidemics of infectious diseases such as cholera, but also to prevent a catastrophic failure of this year's rice crop, 65 per cent of which comes from the cyclone stricken area.

The handful of foreign aid workers who had made it out to the stricken areas of the Delta were on their way back to Rangoon yesterday on the orders of the Government. Foreign journalists who attempted to reach the area were turned back at multiple military checkpoints.

One British NGO (non-governmental organisation), the medical charity Merlin, has been allowed to keep a foreign presence in the southwestern city of Labutta, where the organisation had a longstanding project. The rest, including UN organisations such as the World Food Programme and UN Development Programme, must rely on their Burmese staff.

Many of them are well trained and competent but, according to aid workers in Rangoon, experienced foreign experts are also required to oversee logistical planning and to operate technical imported equipment such as water purification plants.

Thirteen days after Cyclone Nargis, anger at the junta's refusal to allow large-scale foreign aid is giving way to resignation and a search for practical ways around its stubbornness. The heads of aid organisations based in Rangoon report that Cabinet ministers appear unhappy at the suffering inflicted on their people by the cyclone and willing to accept foreign experts. They have been overruled by the senior members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), above all the senior general, Than Shwe.

The Thai Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, had a two and a half hour meeting yesterday with the Burmese Prime Minister, Thein Sein, who ruled out a significant foreign presence on the ground. “He insisted that his country has a government, its people and the private sector to tackle the problem by themselves,” Mr Samak said.

“They are confident of dealing with the problem by themselves ... They don't need experts but are willing to get aid supplies from every country.”

Larger quantities of aid, including tarpaulins from Britain, came through Rangoon airport yesterday after the trickle of last week. The job of distributing these increased supplies is beyond the capacity of the Burmese military but, rather than being dominated by Western experts, the junta has proposed that the aid effort should be overseen by international staff from China, Burma's closest friend, from neighbouring India and Bangladesh, and from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional organisation that has failed consistently to censure the generals for all but their most extreme acts of oppression.

Even if such an arrangement were agreed, it would require intense organisation to save the next rice harvest. The five states most affected by the cyclone produce 65 per cent of the country's rice, and the Irrawaddy delta produces 15 per cent. Planting the new rice must take place within the next six weeks if there is to be a harvest in October.

The storm, apart from killing and displacing farmers and destroying villages, inundated fields with salty water, destroyed dikes and irrigation channels, and drowned 200,000 buffalo used to plough the fields. The Government has said that it will need $243 million for salt-resistant seed, fertilisers, ploughs and repairs.

Burma's children at risk of starving to death

* Aid agencies warn children are starving
* As many as 2 million in need of food and water
* UN says more international aid needs to be allowed in

THOUSANDS of children in Burma could starve within days unless food is rushed to them, aid agencies have warned.

The international community has been turning up the pressure on the regime over its handling of the tragedy, which has left nearly 134,000 people dead or missing and 2 million in need of food and water since tearing into the southern Irrawaddy Delta on May 2.

British aid group Save the Children said thousands of children could starve to death within weeks, and the latest UN internal report said it was still awaiting government approval to import rice, edible seeds and oil.

"We are extremely worried that many children in the affected areas are now suffering from severe acute malnourishment, the most serious level of hunger," said Jasmine Whitbread, who heads the agency's operation in Britain.

"When people reach this stage, they can die in a matter of days."

The World Food Program (WFP), which is leading the outside emergency food effort, said it had managed to get rice and beans to 212,000 of the 750,000 people it thinks are most in need, the Associated Press reported.

"It's not enough. There are a very large number of people who are yet to receive any kind of assistance and that's what's keeping out teams working round the clock," WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said in Bangkok.

UN's top disaster official John Holmes arrived in Myanmar yesterday on a three-day visit to convince the reluctant regime to open the doors to a massive relief effort after Cyclone Nargis.

Mr Holmes was carrying a letter from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the head of the junta, Than Shwe. The UN chief has made repeated calls to the military leader but failed to reach him since the tragedy.

The secretive military rulers have been letting more foreign experts into the country in recent days, but aid groups say it is not enough to ensure that victims get the food, water, shelter and medical care they need

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have both raised the spectre of crimes against humanity by the junta over its handling of the catastrophe.

Archbishop Tutu said the regime had "effectively declared war on its own population".

Despite the Brumese government's insistence that the relief effort is going well, witnesses who managed to sneak through the security cordon around the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta said the situation remained dire.

'It was horrible beyond description," a foreign businessman said.

"Most of the devastated huts looked like they were empty at first glance. But there were actually survivors inside," he said.

'One hut with no roof was full of about 100 people, crouching in the rain. There was no food and no water. Each person had nothing more than the clothes on their bodies, shivering in the cold."

The junta has continued to insist it can handle most of the operation by itself, and state media are full of photos of smiling citizens receiving handouts from generals.

- with AFP-Newscom

Children of Burma junta studying here

By Harriet Alexander Higher Education Reporter

CHILDREN of some of the most senior members of the Burmese regime are studying at Australian universities, local Burmese say.

They include the son and daughter-in-law of a minister, whose names are on a list of banned figures, and the son of a colonel in the Burmese military.

The former foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, said it was "likely that some elements of the regime would have children studying here".

The junta has aroused international disgust by blocking foreign aid after the devastation of Cyclone Nargis this month.

Last October, the federal government and the Reserve Bank placed financial sanctions on 418 members and supporters of the regime, including military officers, MPs, former commanders and their families.

A former University of NSW student - who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals against his family in Burma - said one woman on the list, Wei Wei Lay, graduated in engineering in the early 2000s and had since become a permanent resident in Australia.

Her husband, Aung Myat Soe, who is also known as Kyaw Myat Soe and is the son of Burma's minister for national planning and economic development, was doing a masters of engineering at the university, the former student said.

Universities are prevented under privacy laws from commenting on their students and the University of NSW declined to confirm or deny whether it had a record of the students.

It said: "A person's suitability to be granted entry to, or residency in, Australia is a matter for the Government and the Department of Immigration. The university's responsibility is to comply with all relevant government legislation and regulations. The university has a totally objective system for accepting students, which is based on the student's academic merit."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Government was aware that two people on the financial sanctions list were living in Australia and had been since before the sanctions were imposed.

Neither of the students could be located by the Herald and it is not known if they have changed or anglicised their names. But the name "Kyaw Soe" is listed on an online database as a candidate in the university's telecommunications masters course and due to graduate at the end of this year.

The son of a Burmese colonel is also studying in Sydney. His uncle, a psychiatrist living in Carlingford, confirmed that his brother's son was studying at Central Queensland University's Sydney campus.

But the colonel's brother, Raymond Tint Way - who is a pro-democracy advocate and organiser of Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals - said there were many children in Australian universities whose parents were more senior than his brother, who was only a soldier and not a member of the elite group.

Kyaw Myint Malia of the Burmese Friendship Association said local Burmese were aware that the children of several junta members were studying at universities, but many of them changed their names and background details before applying for their student visas.

The website Burma Dictator Watch says the youngest daughter of one of the regime's most senior military commanders is also studying at a Sydney university.

Thomas Tunra, a democracy activist, said local Burmese believed Major-General Tin Hla had been in Sydney about six months ago, but he did not know whether his daughter had been enrolled at a university at that time.