Latest Cyclone Death Toll Estimated at 200,000

Even by this week's drumbeat of disaster news, the figure is shocking: The number of people who died or are missing after Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis may have reached 200,000.

That grim statistic is included in a report by the British government on the Myanmar relief effort.

"Estimates suggest that up to 200,000 are dead or missing and 1.5 million are in urgent need of immediate assistance -- of which 300,000 are desperately in need," the British Department for International Development wrote.

The International Red Cross estimated a lower number on the death toll, estimating it to be 127,990.

Both figures were the result of adding the numbers gathered by aid groups in the field and using pre-cyclone population information about the affected towns to extrapolate the total.

Both of the chilling estimates, however, are far larger than the 62,000 the Myanmar government believes have died or can't be found.

The new figures suggest the cyclone has caused a human catastrophe on the scale of the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 300,000 people in areas surrounding the Indian Ocean. But that carnage was spread over several countries rather than concentrated in one impoverished nation.

A 'Second Wave of Death'?

While the diplomats wrangled over the number of dead, heavy rains pounded the homeless survivors, and Amanda Pitt of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs said she feared a "second wave of death" unless more is done to help them.

Her fears were compounded by a storm brewing off the coast of Myanmar. The U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said there is a good chance that "a significant tropical cyclone" will form by Thursday and would be aimed at the same Irrawaddy Delta area that bore the brunt of last week's cyclone.

The disaster, along with Myanmar's begrudging willingness to allow only small amounts of foreign aid into the country, prompted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call for an emergency U.N. summit to coordinate efforts to rush aid to cyclone victims in Myanmar.

After refusing help for several critical days, the generals who run Myanmar allowed about 40 to 45 plane loads of aid to enter the country. But the country's ruling military junta is still balking at allowing all but a handful of international relief experts to help coordinate and distribute disaster relief. And those that are allowed into Myanmar are generally not given access to the Irrawaddy Delta.

"There has been an improvement, but it is not good enough," Brown said. "It is not good enough because the Burmese people are 1.5 million people who face famine or distress, and it's not good enough because the regime is still preventing aid getting to the rest of the country."

The country's junta told visiting Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej that it is in control of the relief operations and doesn't need foreign experts.

Samak visited a government relief center in Yangon and told reporters after returning to Bangkok that the junta has given him the "guarantee" that there are no disease outbreaks and no starvation among the cyclone survivors, according to The Associated Press.

The U.N. and relief agencies inside Myanmar said that aid has reached only 270,000 of the estimated 1.5 million who need food, water and medical care.

International agencies say the lack of roads, lack of equipment, bureaucratic bottlenecks and Myanmar's refusal to accept help have left most survivors hungry, thirsty and shivering in the rain.

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