Aid groups: 1 million in Myanmar without help

One month after the devastating cyclone hit Myanmar, aid groups say more than a million survivors are still without basic relief, reported CNN.

The groups say they still faced government delays in sending disaster experts and vital equipment into the country. The hurdles have resulted in only a trickle of the necessary aid reaching the storm's estimated 2.4 million survivors, and left the relief efforts unable to move beyond providing the most immediate needs.

"People need basic relief, which is shocking after four weeks," said Sarah Ireland, the regional director of Oxfam, a U.K.-based humanitarian agency that is still trying to gain permission to work in Myanmar.

"If we were in a normal response by week four, those affected should be working toward recovery," she said Monday. "They would be in a position perhaps to think about what they need to restart their lives. But we know people on the ground don't have food to eat."

Tidal surges as high as 12-foot (3 1/2-meter) on May 2-3 reached some 25 miles (40 kilometers) inland, laying waste to entire villages and leaving 78,000 people dead and another 56,000 missing, according to the government's count.

But the relief has yet to match the scale of the disaster.

"We are not yet at the stage where we are getting sufficient quantities of relief assistance to all those who need it," said Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian effort. "Obviously, that has been very frustrating."

Aid groups are still unable to reach even half of the survivors with sufficient food and clean water, while trying to prevent a second wave of deaths due to malnutrition and disease.

A big obstacle in providing relief has been reaching the delta. With only seven government helicopters flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. Boats able to navigate the debris-filled canals are also scarce and efforts to import trucks and other vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.

"For aid agencies it is very important that those affected receive a full complement of appropriate aid," said James East, a spokesman for World Vision, a major private aid agency which had operations in Myanmar even before the disaster. "To say that a certain percentage of people have received aid means little because some survivors may have received a tarpaulin but no food and vice versa."

One small sign of progress was registered Monday: except in the areas most devastated by the cyclone, most schools opened as schedule at the end of the hot season vacation, that started in March.

In many cases, the school buildings were still missing windows and parts of their roofs blown off by the storm, but UNICEF and other educational experts agreed that getting children back to their studies as soon as possible was an important part of the healing process.

The junta's response was in stark contrast to that of Indonesia during the 2004 tsunami and Pakistan during the 2005 earthquake. Both countries opened the doors to hundred of international aid groups and set aside their suspicions to allow the Americans troops to ferry aid and help evacuate survivors from remote areas.

Myanmar's xenophobic military regime -- rivaling only that of North Korea -- left survivors to largely fend for themselves. It barred foreigners from the delta until last week and refused entry to U.S. and French naval vessels which have been off the country's coast, laden with aid.

Compounding the logistics challenges has been a shortage of foreign experts in the field. It has resulted in a chaotic and uneven aid effort, with charity groups complaining it has nearly impossible to asses needs of survivors or set up systems that are normally in place by now to provide clean water and sanitation.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is still waiting for government approval to send six foreign experts into the field to help run its water treatment facilities. Until now, it has been able to provide only 5,000 people each day with clean water.

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