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Aid trickles to Myanmar

Amid chaos, a vote

Voting began today across most parts of Myanmar on a referendum for a controversial constitution, but balloting was postponed for two weeks in the hardest hit areas, including Yangon.

The disaster that killed or left missing tens of thousands has overshadowed the vote, which even before the May 3 storm was considered by many a foregone conclusion because the rules are skewed in favor of the military junta that has ruled since 1962.

Some 27-million of the country's 57-million people are eligible to vote, although it is unclear how many will have to cast ballots on May 24 instead.

The new constitution is supposed to be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of a "road map to democracy" drawn up by the junta. The draft constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency.

Its rules would also bar Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the country's pro-democracy movement, from public office. The military refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by her National League for Democracy party.

Times wires

Food costs spike, while rice exports continue

The lack of food and water have led to huge price increases. In Yangon, the cost of water has shot up by more than 500 percent, and rice and oil by 60 percent in the last three days, the Danish Red Cross said.

Grim assessments were made about what lies ahead. The aid group Action Against Hunger noted that the delta region is known as the country's granary, and the cyclone hit before the harvest.

Yet the government was exporting tons of rice through its main port Friday in Thiwala. Sacks filled with rice were destined for Bangladesh, according to drivers of at least 10 transport trucks.

A tour through Bogalay

Six days after a cyclone churned through the coastal plain of Myanmar, it is clear the damage is great and that little aid has made it to the thousands of villagers along the sea south of the country's main city, Yangon.

The smell of rot and death is in the air there, part of a single district where the military government says 10,000 people have died.

The water has not receded fully, and few aid trucks have arrived. Only one helicopter, from the Myanmar military, was spotted all Friday, dropping off instant noodle packages around the devastated delta.

Win Kyi, a mother looking for a lost son, was crying, her body shaking and arms outstretched for food, money, water — anything. "I have nothing," she said, shuffling in a state of shock. "Everything is gone."

It is difficult to assess the human toll, even in a landscape of toppled trees and houses and bloated farm animals that resemble the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that killed 181,000. Along the 70 miles of road — the only one — from Yangon to Bogalay, not a single human corpse was visible. But aid groups and the few reporters on the ground have not had full access to some of the areas that were reportedly hardest hit.

>>fast facts

A critical situation

The aid blockade: The military junta finally agreed Friday to allow a U.S. cargo plane to bring in food and other supplies to the isolated country on Monday. It gave the green light after confiscating other shipments, prompting the U.N. to order a temporary freeze in shipments. The U.N. agreed to resume flights, but relief workers, including Americans, were still being barred entry. The United Nations is seeking $187-million in pledges from donor nations to help survivors.

More rain: Heavy rain is forecast in the next week, certain to worsen the plight of almost 2-million people awaiting food, clean water, shelter and medicine.

Grim numbers: Diplomats and aid groups warned that the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illness, and said thousands of children may have been orphaned. The International Red Cross estimated that the combined efforts of relief agencies and the Myanmar government have distributed aid to only 220,000 of up to 1.9-million people left homeless, injured or subject to disease and hunger.

Aid trickles to Myanmar 05/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:40pm]
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