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Page last updated at 21:10 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 22:10 UK

Sporadic aid trickles into Burma

Aid delivery arrives in Yangon
Help is arriving, but aid agencies say Burma does not have the expertise

Deliveries of aid to Burma to help cyclone victims have been arriving sporadically, and the UN fears only a quarter of survivors have received aid.

The UN's World Food Programme says three plane-loads were flown in on Saturday and appear to have been released for distribution.

Correspondents in the country say aid is reaching survivors, but not enough.

Burma's leaders are under fire for holding a referendum while 1.5 million people are affected by the disaster.

The UN, which has launched a $187m (96m) appeal for aid, says those in the worst-affected areas urgently need food, shelter and medical aid.

Burma's state media says 23,335 died, but the UN fears the toll could be about 100,000.

Government control

The WFP's latest deliveries included high-energy biscuits, shelter materials, and communications and office equipment. The agency said it hoped the authorities would soon release Friday's two deliveries.

Earlier on Saturday, a convoy from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, crossed into Burma from Thailand with 22 tonnes of tents and other humanitarian supplies.

Joe Lowry, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said he hoped another seven flights would reach Burma, before Monday.

Since the cyclone struck on 3 May, aid agencies already in the country have started relief efforts with supplies they had available and by buying from local sources.

But they warn that supplies will run out unless more aid is allowed into the country.

Christian Aid's Burma expert Ray Hasan said: "Partners are telling that there are outbreaks of disease already. There is no time to lose."

Aid has been flown in from Burma's neighbours, such as China and Thailand, and the first US relief flight is expected to arrive on Monday.

But aid agencies say the Burmese government does not have the capacity to handle the scale of the relief efforts needed and must allow more foreign aid and disaster experts into the country.

Richard Horsey, a spokesman for UN humanitarian operations said an international presence was needed in Burma to look at the logistics of getting boats, helicopters and trucks into the worst-affected delta area.

"That's a critical bottleneck that must be overcome at this point," he told the Associated Press, speaking from Bangkok.

Disease

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said thousands of people were homeless and are living in pitiable conditions.

EXTENT OF THE DEVASTATION
Detail from Nasa satellite images

Hospitals, schools and other large buildings are crammed with the displaced.

Federation workers said they had seen evidence that some aid, such as newly-installed or repaired pumps were working, but the water around and near these buildings was black-brown and foul-smelling.

Christian Aid says people are asking for rice seeds, as their supplies have been damaged. Unless people plant the seeds in the next month, they will have no supplies of rice until May 2009.

Poll doubts

Burma's generals have been criticised for pressing ahead with a referendum on a national constitution in the midst of the cyclone chaos.

Burmese voter in the town of Hlegu, 10 May

Voting took place in two-thirds of the country on Saturday, but was postponed for two weeks in the worst-hit areas - including the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon, the main city.

The country's ruling generals say the vote will pave the way for democratic elections in 2010, while the opposition says it is intended to entrench military rule.

Correspondents say many people in Burma are cynical about the vote and had felt compelled to vote "yes" because of the presence of soldiers around polling stations.

Groups involved in last year's pro-democracy protests accused the junta of concentrating on a "sham constitutional referendum" instead of "putting all resources toward saving the lives" of cyclone victims.




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