05/08/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts

The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions launches a campaign to collect funds for the emergency in the south of the country. The number of victims continues to rise, together with the alarm over sanitary conditions, but the junta says the situation is "returning to normal". Tonnes of food aid from the UN are at the border, waiting for permission to enter from the military regime. The people are beginning to sell family heirlooms on the black market in order to eat.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), present in Myanmar for 150 years, is also taking part in the humanitarian efforts of the entire world, and running to the aid of the population struck by the fury of Cyclone Nargis. The PIME of Milan is launching a fundraising campaign to "bring essential aid immediately".

Meanwhile, six days after the disaster, the death toll has not stopped rising.  Today the confirmed figure is 110,000, according to the agency Mizzima News.  The catastrophe approaches the one caused by another cyclone in 1991 in Bangladesh (143,000 dead).  In the area of Labutta alone, in the southeast of the country, the number of victims has reached 80,000, according to military sources.

Richard Horsey, spokesman for the OCHA, the United Nations agency for the coordination of humanitarian operations headquartered in Bangkok, says that about 5,000 square kilometres of land is under water, and more than a million people urgently need help.  According to the UN, the Irrawaddy delta is the crucial point for aid, requiring boats, helicopters, and trucks.

The aid operations are battling against time to limit the risk of disease.  The decomposing cadavers and the lack of drinking water bring fears of the spread of typhoid fever, dysentery, and malaria.

In spite of the alarm over health conditions, the Burmese junta continues to delay entry permits for personnel and cargo of the international humanitarian agencies, already mobilised for the emergency.  The UN staff in Thailand is still waiting for visas, while the airplanes of the World Food Programme, with 40 tonnes of energy bars, are stuck in Dhaka and Dubai, waiting for permission from Naypytaw.

The United States received authorisation to fly into Burmese territory today.  Military aircraft carrying aid will arrive within two days, according to Bangkok, which mediated between the two countries, which have had tense relations for some time.  After the repression of the protests of monks in September, Washington imposed economic sanctions on the regime, and continues to apply pressure for the respect of human rights.

The disaster has caused a steep rise in the prices of food and fuel.  There is a shortage of food, and the people are beginning to sell valuables or to exchange currency on the black market.  The richest are asking for Thai bahts in exchange for the kyat, because they want to leave the country, one currency exchange operator recounts.  In Yangon, there is still no electricity, and there is anger and frustration among the people.  The generals are being blamed for mismanaging the crisis: in spite of knowing for a week about the arrival of Nargis, they did not provide timely warnings for the citizens in the areas at risk, and even now few of the military officials - witnesses say - are involved in aid efforts.

On the contrary, the regime's propaganda machine is engaged in creating images of order and efficiency on the state media outlets.  General Tha Aye has appeared on television saying that the situation is "returning to normal".

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