Burma: Humanitarian organizations waiting to reach cyclone-ravaged areas

(Reuters) – Humanitarian organizations were waiting on Wednesday for permission from Burmese military authorities to deliver emergency food and medicine to areas in Rakhine state devastated by a deadly cyclone three days ago.

Hundreds are estimated to have died in Cyclone Mocha on Sunday, which packed winds of up to 210 km/h, destroyed homes, communication towers, bridges and flooded the state capital Sittwe.

Residents contacted by Reuters said no help had arrived for days after the storm struck, and volunteers were digging through the rubble to find those missing.

A resident who declined to be identified for security reasons said about 400 people had died and were at risk of dying due to “a lack of food, pure water and emergency treatment”. “There are no search and rescue teams.”

Rakhine state has more than three million people, and is home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, which successive governments in Burma, mainly Buddhist, have refused to recognize.

UN agencies said they were still awaiting the go-ahead from authorities to assess and distribute supplies to the affected areas, some of which are inaccessible due to the scale of the damage.

“We have established communication channels with all authorities in Burma. We have requested unrestricted access to affected communities,” said Pierre Perron, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

State media said on Wednesday that military ships and helicopters had flown aid into Rakhine state, and that 21 people, including members of security forces carrying out rescue operations, had died in the area as a result of the storm.

Reuters could not reach a junta spokesman.

(Reuters report, Poppy Macpherson in Bangkok; French edition edited by Nathan Vifflin, Blandine Heinault)

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