Burmese Junta's Attitude Results In Mass Infanticide

A generation of children could be wiped out if help does not quickly get through to the cyclone-stricken villages of Burma, according to international officials frustrated by the military junta's obstruction of Western aid workers.

Desperate survivors of Cyclone Nargis poured out of the Irrawaddy Delta yesterday in search of food, water and medicine as calls mounted for the West to ignore the junta and stage a Berlin airlift-style operation to parachute aid to the 1.5million people hardest hit by the May 3 category-three storm.

The UN has appealed for $US187million in aid, even though it is still not confident the food, water, medicines, bedding and utensils flown in will make it to those most in need because of the junta's reluctance to allow international relief workers into the country.

Australia dramatically increased its aid contribution to the victims yesterday, pledging an extra $22 million to take its total offer to $25 million.

As calls grew for the UN to unilaterally organise a relief operation, charities warned that epidemics of "apocalyptic proportions" could be caused by delays in delivering supplies of fresh water and medicines.

Amid the chaos, the generals held a referendum on a new constitution on Saturday in all but 24 of the hardest-hit districts - a vote to legitimise and perpetuate their grip on power.

Latest estimates suggest that up to 116,000 people died when a tidal surge swept across the delta from ocean water whipped up by Nargis.

Of 1.7 million left homeless or in distress, many hundreds of thousands are children who are most vulnerable to waterborne diseases.

Reports of dysentery have already emerged, and there are fears of a measles epidemic.

Although some aid is reaching Burma, the junta has refused to let it be distributed by foreigners.

The generals, led by strongman Than Shwe, more used to cracking down on unarmed pro-democracy marchers than organising relief for their own people, insist on using their poorly equipped army to conduct a grossly mismanaged operation.

"We are very worried about a second disaster," said Greg Beck of the International Rescue Committee.

"We've had some early indications that cholera is breaking out ... also dengue fever and malaria. These are treatable, and we could contain them easily if we were able to get access."

Dysentery was reported to be taking a grip in parts of the delta, and World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello and other aid specialists voiced fears that outbreaks of the disease were on the approaches to Rangoon.

Mr Costello warned of a disaster of "apocalyptic proportions" if water, food, shelter and medical care for the estimated 1.5 million people hardest-hit by the storm were blocked.

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