Govt. Keeps Cyclone Relief Workers From Entering Country

As the death toll from the devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar mounts, as the number of the missing grows, as the victims grow more hungry, more thirsty and more desperate, there is nothing that aid worker Pamela Sitko can do.

"We're waiting for visas. We need to airlift supplies into the country," Sitko, who works for the humanitarian group World Vision, told ABC News in Bangkok while waiting to fly into neighboring Myanmar. "Every day that goes by, more lives can be lost."

By last count more than 22,000 lives have been lost to Cyclone Nagis, according to Myanmar state radio. Some 40,000 people are still missing and as many as 2 million have been left homeless.


And yet many of the international aid workers the victims of the cyclone desperately need are stuck outside Myanmar, waiting for the government to grant them visas. They are bogged down by a bureaucracy still reluctant to open its borders to foreigners, despite the suffering from the worst natural disaster in the country's history.

The challenge those aid workers face is vast. The cyclone affected 24 million people. The area that was most directly hit, the Irrawaddy Delta, the country's low-lying rice bowl, is 12,000 square miles. It was difficult to reach the towns in the delta before the storm; today, it is nearly impossible.

"The situation is still bad, and nothing much beyond tree clearing is going on," Shari Villarosa, the American charge'd'affairs in Myanmar, told ABC News. "Water, food and fuel shortages are likely to worsen, along with public discontent. People are worried about potential for looting and violence. And in the delta it is much, much worse. I hope the military eventually realizes that they need international help to get relief to the people."

The capital of the country once known as Burma is without electricity for the fourth straight day. The basic essentials such as water, gas and bread have become precious. Residents are hoarding water and those who can't find it are being forced to pay. There are gas lines as long as streets. A single gallon can cost $15. Bread is nearly impossible to come by.

"The food security situation in the country, which was already severe, is likely to become more acute," according to the United Nations' humanitarian relief agency.

"People are actually trying to take a bath in the lake but at the same time they're taking drinking water out of that lake, so you can imagine what kind of consequences that might have on the health of the people," Birke Herzbruch, the country coordinator for Malteser International , told ABC News from Yangon.

Entire Villages Flattened

The epicenter of the storm may be Bogalay, where 10,000 people died and nearly every single structure was flattened, according to Myanmar state television. Nearly 95 percent of the buildings no longer exist.

Officials fear a second disaster could be in the making if diseases incubate as a result of the country's crippled infrastructure. In many areas, the cleanup is being spearheaded by legions of monks rather than government agencies.

The enormity of the crisis prompted President Bush today to increase the U.S.'s offer of aid from $250,000 to $3 million.

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