Monday, May 19, 2008

Hunger could kill thousands of children in Myanmar

Children under five in Irrawaddy Delta acutely malnourished

Monday, May 19, 2008
LONDON: Thousands of children in Myanmar could die of starvation within two or three weeks, a charity said on Sunday.

Save the Children UK said its research showed that an estimated 30,000 children under five in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta were already acutely malnourished when Cyclone Nargis tore through the region - and that several thousand among them are now at risk of death.

With hundreds of thousands of people still not receiving aid many of these children will not survive much longer,the charity said in a statement. Children may already be dying as a result of a lack of food.

Humanitarian aid agency Action Against Hunger described the situation in the Bogale region of Myanmar where it was working as extremely alarming, saying the priority of every survivor they surveyed there was to find enough food to eat.

All day long, people are looking for food and for a way of cooking the food they find, the group said in a statement. For over 15 days, the survivors have mainly been feeding themselves with wild fruits and vegetables and mouldy rice, which they are trying to dry.

The group said the price of rice had quadrupled since the cyclone struck the country and that some people were already starving.

More than two weeks after the cyclone devastated Myanmar, also known as Burma, aid agencies have chafed at government restrictions preventing them from reaching the worse-hit areas.

Heavy rains since the storm have also stymied relief efforts, and relief agencies say inhabitants are suffering from a shortage of safe water and proper sanitation. The United Nations and others say that lack of proper aid could dramatically worsen the crisis.

Save the Children said Myanmar's long-term food security had been jeopardised by the cyclone because many farmers were prevented from sowing seeds for the harvest, while Action Against Hunger said most fishermen had lost all their fishing equipment.

Britain's Department for International Development said it had reports of extensive damage to agriculture in the area, warning that the loss of the country's November harvest was possible as the planting season is due to end within five to seven weeks.

Myanmar's state-run television has said the cyclone death toll is around 78,000 with about 56,000 missing. Aid groups say those estimates are too low, and Britain has cited unofficial estimates that some 217,000 people are dead or missing.

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