Disaster Drew Acceptance Of Outside Help


Yangon - Myanmar's military government raised its death toll from Cyclone Nargis on Tuesday to nearly 22,500 with another 41,000 missing, almost all from a massive storm surge that swept into the Irrawaddy delta.

The United Nations' World Food Programme began doling out emergency rice in Yangon, the largest city and former capital, and the first batch of more than $10 million worth of foreign aid arrived from Thailand. But a lack of specialized equipment slowed distribution.

Despite the magnitude of the disaster -- the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh -- France said the ruling generals in the former Burma were still placing too many conditions on aid.

"The United Nations is asking the Burmese government to open its doors. The Burmese government replies: 'Give us money, we'll distribute it.' We can't accept that," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told parliament...

The disaster drew a rare acceptance of a trickle of outside help from the diplomatically isolated generals, who spurned such approaches after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Thailand flew in nine metric tons of food and medicine, the first foreign aid shipment, but a Reuters cameraman on the plane said supplies were unloaded by hand as no forklift trucks were available -- a sign the army may lack vital equipment.

Two Indian transport planes are due to fly in on Wednesday and more are on standby, officials in New Delhi said.

The United Nations, which has 1,650 international and local staff in Myanmar, said the children's agency UNICEF had delivered drugs, first aid kits and oral rehydration tablets in Labutta township, a hard-hit area in the delta.

State media have made much of the army's response, showing soldiers manhandling tree trunks or generals climbing into helicopters or greeting homeless victims in Buddhist temples.

Aid agency World Vision in Australia said it had been granted special visas to send in personnel to back up 600 staff in the impoverished country.

"This is massive," World Vision Australia head Tim Costello said. "It is not necessarily quite tsunami level but in terms of impact of millions displaced, thousands dead, it is just terrible."

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Myanmar, who was once Burma, hear: Now that the Lord has softened your land, let not your heart be hardened by pride and old hatred. The time has come for the Lord to reshape you, therefore resist not the workings of His hands.

In the days and times ahead, some nations will follow, but for now, it is your turn.

Forget not the kindness that nations are showing you; for you will have your opportunity to return their kindness when their time comes.