Myanmar Blocks More Help as Needs Rise

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CBNNews.com - Myanmar's official death toll from a devastating cyclone that hit nearly two weeks ago has doubled to 78,000 while another 56,000 people remain missing, state television reported Friday.

International aid is trickling into the country, but not nearly fast enough. The U.N. reports that the real casualty figures could be much higher, with disease setting in from decaying bodies still visible and lack of clean drinking water.

For more on the situation on Myanmar, watch Pat Klein, with Vision Beyond Borders. Klien just returned from the region.

Myanmar's government has been blocking access to the areas worst-hit by a cyclone. And they're still refusing visas to many foreign aid workers.

It's estimated that the storm left 2.5 million people destitute and in need of food, water, and shelter. The Red Cross says less than 25 percent of the survivors are getting any help at all.

The most pressing need is clean water. Unless the people of Myanmar receive the clean drinking water they urgently need, they risk falling victim to dysentery.

Operation Blessing International, working with a local group in Myanmar, launched a project Thursday to fix 40 water wells in country that had been destroyed.

"We tried to ship in portable water purification units from the U.S., but the Myanmar government has the border pretty much closed," Bill Horan, president of OBI said. "The existing deep wells are a perfect solution; already there, just waiting to pump pure water. All we had to do was provide electricity."

The "quick and cost efficient solution" would restore clean water to nearly 20,000 people a day, Horan said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. health agency said Friday it was concerned about diarrhea, malaria, and dengue fever spreading among the cyclone victims.

The World Health Organization has also set up a surveillance system to monitor possible cholera outbreaks, spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.

Myanmar's government is treating all severe cases of diarrhea as if they were cholera, she said. But she added that, so far, no emergency vaccines or antibiotics for the disease are being distributed.

"The government is focusing on prevention of disease from source through access to safe water and sanitary latrines," Chaib said.

OBI is also working toward sending medical teams to the area; a project that could help at least 60,000 Burmese.

Earlier, an OBI relief worker was able to provide at least a month's worth of food to a group of orphans affected by the storm.

Source: The Associated Press, Operation Blessing International

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