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US flotilla leaving Myanmar coast with aid aboard
Myanmar XRG113 5655642
A young local boy catches crabs on Chaungtha beach in the Irrawaddy Delta region, Tuesday, June 3, 2008. Chaungtha beach is know as a popular tourist spot for both Myanmar residents and foreign visitors, but since cyclone Nargis, on May 2-3 that left 78,000 people dead and another 56,000 missing, there have been no holiday makers at all causing the entire village to suffer. - photo by Associated Press
    YANGON, Myanmar — U.S. Navy ships laden with relief supplies will steam away from Myanmar’s coast Thursday, their helicopters barred by the ruling junta even though millions of cyclone survivors need food, shelter or medical care.
    More than a month after the storm, many people in stricken areas still have received no aid at all and the military regime continued to impose constraints on international rescue efforts, humanitarian groups said Wednesday.
    ‘‘I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta,’’ said Adm. Timothy J. Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
    The USS Essex and three other amphibious assault ships, which have been in international waters off Myanmar since May 13, will continue with their previously scheduled missions, Keating said in a statement issued by his headquarters in Hawaii.
    But Keating added that ‘‘should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people, we are prepared to help.’’
    He said the U.S. had made ‘‘at least 15 attempts’’ to persuade the junta to allow the ships, which carry 22 medium and heavy helicopters, four landing craft and 5,000 sailors and Marines, to deliver aid directly to victims in Myanmar’s most badly damaged areas.
    The junta also refused help from French and British warships that broke off from scheduled missions to stand by off Myanmar.
    U.S. military C-130 transport planes hare being allowed to fly in relief supplies to Yangon, the country’s biggest city, from a temporary base in Thailand.
    Some 1.3 million survivors have been reached with assistance by local and international aid groups, the Red Cross or U.N. agencies, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
    But U.N. officials estimated 1.1 million more still needed help. ‘‘There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations,’’ the agency warned.
    The government says 78,000 people were killed by the May 2-3 cyclone and 56,000 more are unaccounted for.
    The junta, which explicitly rejected the use of foreign military helicopters in the relief effort, has not authorized the entry of nine civilian helicopters flying on behalf of the U.N. World Food Program though they have been in Thailand since last week.
    Only one helicopter chartered by the WFP was allowed in more than a week ago and it didn’t begin flying supply missions from Yangon to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta until Monday.
    Restrictions on visa and travel permission for foreign workers, as well as on entry of some equipment, are hampering the aid effort, despite a pledge made almost two weeks ago by the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon to allow foreign aid workers free access to devastated areas.
    ‘‘The small number of visas and the short duration of travel permits for access’’ into the delta area ‘‘continue to impose serious constraints on the effectiveness of overall operations,’’ the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Wednesday.
    In Washington, White House secretary Dana Perino criticized Myanmar’s ruling generals for hindering aid efforts.
    ‘‘The Burmese regime must permit all international aid workers the access necessary to provide the urgently needed assistance,’’ Perino said. ‘‘There is no more time to waste.’’
    Myanmar, meanwhile, reportedly has been able to field only seven helicopters of its own.
    Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said the junta’s refusal to let military helicopters work in the country meant the U.N. had to charter large civilian aircraft, adding greatly to his agency’s costs.
    The WFP has budgeted $70 million for food and ground operations and nearly as much — $50 million — to charter the 10 helicopters, he said. It has received contributions of about $50 million toward the total, he added.
    In previous large-scale disasters — such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake — helicopters on loan from friendly nations’ militaries were used to rush in emergency supplies, he said.
    ‘‘For political reasons, the Myanmar government was reluctant to approve their use,’’ Risley said.
    The isolationist regime is extremely suspicious of outsiders, particularly of the U.S. and other Western nations that have criticized its harsh treatment of democracy advocates.
    Despite the problems, the World Health Organization reported some cause for optimism.
    In a report circulated Wednesday, it cited an assessment by the U.N. Children’s Fund of conditions in hard-to-reach areas outside the town of Bogalay, one of the areas worst affected by the storm.
    It quoted the assessment as saying that ‘‘there were no post-cyclone deaths in any of the villages assessed’’ as well as no signs of acute malnutrition. It also said suitable sources were found for clean water, assuming the use of some form of treatment.
    The findings appeared to counteract fears there could be a ‘‘second wave’’ of deaths after the cyclone due to the lack of immediate large-scale assistance.
    However, Doctors Without Borders warned that as monsoon rains become heavier, there will be more challenges supplying aid and keeping survivors healthy.
    Sailing open boats with relief workers and supplies is becoming more difficult ‘‘because of the speed of the wind, because of the current, the storm,’’ said Souheil Reaiche, the group’s mission chief in Myanmar. ‘‘So they have to be careful.’’
    Mobile clinics are filling in for the delta’s wrecked medical facilities, but they can only do basic health care, Reaiche said.
    People will develop more respiratory infections because they don’t have proper shelter, he said. With mosquitoes beginning to recover from the cyclone’s inundation, there are worries about dengue fever and malaria, he said.

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