YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- Myanmar's cyclone survivors have insufficient fuel to burn the rotting corpses of the dead as the ruling military junta is accused of being too slow in letting aid groups into the country.
Relief agencies say decomposing corpses litter ditches and fields in the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta area as survivors try to conserve fuel for transporting much-needed supplies.
The international community is growing increasingly frustrated with the junta's lack of progress in granting visas for relief workers and giving clearance for aid flights to land.
They are concerned the lack of medical supplies and clean food and water threatens to increase the already staggering death toll.
Myanmar's military government says more than 22,000 people died when the killer cyclone battered the country's low-lying delta region over the weekend. The top U.S. diplomat in the country has said the toll could top 100,000.
The isolated government has begun allowing more aid agencies into the country Thursday to respond to the dire needs of cyclone victims.
Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced that shipments from Bangladesh, China, India, Singapore, Italy and Thailand arrived at Yangon's international airport.
The station said the military was using helicopters to deliver medicine, food and generators throughout the Irrawaddy delta, specifically along the areas around Bassein and Pyapon.
But aid workers from the United Nations and other organizations were still concerned that supplies weren't getting into the country fast enough.
"This is a real worry for us," said Tony Banbury, regional director in Asia for the U.N. World Food Programme, which unloaded a plane carrying 7 metric tons of high-energy biscuits on Thursday.
"The longer we're held back, the more desperate the situation of the people becomes, so when the food does start getting to the remote areas, the hardest-hit areas, there is a real risk that there will be food riots, social disturbances, people attacking the convoys," Banbury said.
Another WFP spokeswoman, Bettina Luescher, told CNN Thursday: "We have gotten valuable cooperation. The first steps have been taken but it's taking too long. It needs to go much quicker."
The delta region had few roads to begin with, many of them were now under water and the storm had washed away numerous bridges, said Shari Villarosa, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon.
CNN's Dan Rivers, one of the few international journalists to have visited the hardest-hit areas of Myanmar, said relief had not reached the people who needed it most.
"We're hearing dreadful stories of hundreds of dead bodies left lying in the fields, decomposing," he said. "These people need help immediately."
China on Thursday urged close ally Myanmar to work with the international community to help overcome the disaster.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China hoped the country would "cooperate with the international community" to help overcome the disaster quickly.
The U.S. has also been pushing for access, pledging $3.25 million and offering to send U.S. Navy ships to the region to help relief efforts.
The U.S. military had already flown six helicopters on to a Thai airbase, as Washington awaits permission to go into the south Asian country, two senior military officials told CNN's Barbara Starr.
Eric John, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, told The Associated Press Thursday that they had still not been given permission to send relief flights to Myanmar despite reports to the contrary.
The U.S. and other nations do not recognize the military junta -- which maintained control of the country even after 1990, when an opposition political party won victory in democratic elections. The country's name was changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. Learn more about Myanmar's recent history »
Tim Costello, president of World Vision Australia, a Christian aid group, told CNN the rain has abated but people are sleeping outside with no food and no sanitation, and he fears the onslaught of diseases such as malaria, dysentery and cholera.
"It is still perilous, and it is a race against time," he said.
Costello added: "The sheer scale is actually overwhelming. And we'll be trying to collaborate with whoever's there, and seeing what donor governments can really do to ramp up the first small investment really of donations"
World Vision has 600 staff members based in Myanmar who have spread out to deliver 35 million tons of rice, 4,000 gallons of water plus diesel fuel for generators that run pumps. Clothing, blankets and tarpaulins have been handed out to people living in and around Yangon
World Vision, which has provided aid in the country for more than 40 years, was specifically asked by the ruling junta to help cyclone survivors.
Aid workers are doing their best to reach the delta but the usual three-hour drive is taking more than eight hours because of blocked, flooded roads, Costello said.
Myanmar's government has asked for international aid, but the junta has balked at allowing assessment teams into the country -- a step that most agencies and countries take before deciding how much and what kind of aid to provide.
The strategy is not to "flood Yangon" with aid workers, but get 30 to 40 experienced U.N. staffers into the country, according to Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"It's quality over quantity," he said from his office in Bangkok.
Horsey said Myanmar's government "is more open to goods" rather than aid workers, but said it was understandable considering the regime's "reticence to engage with the international community." But he pointed out that such a major disaster "would overwhelm any government."
Horsey said the regime had provided a number of helicopters and a larger number of boats to the relief effort.
He said the main hurdle was getting them into the flood-soaked delta, where nearly 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) remained underwater.
"When vast areas are flooded.. helicopters can't land," Horsey said. "When you get down to the tip of the delta, it's not much above sea level. When you get a major storm surge ... it doesn't drain back again."
The problem, he said, was compounded by the current monsoon period in South Asia.
Friday, May 9, 2008
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