According to Burma’s state-controlled television, the death toll from Cyclone Nargis has reached almost seventy-eight-thousand people, with nearly fifty-six-thousand others missing. Estimates by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations place the death toll at more than one-hundred-thousand.
ICRC officials say that aid agencies have been able to reach less than a third of the victims. Hundreds of thousands of others are at risk from disease for lack of clean water. Burmese officials have been slow to permit aid workers to go to the aid of cyclone victims or to accept offers of technical and logistical assistance that are desperately needed given the government of Burma’s lack of capacity.
For its part, the United States continues to fly humanitarian aid missions into Burma, bringing the total number of flights, as of May 19th, to thirty-one. "There is absolutely more" the United States can do to provide assistance, said Geoff Morrell, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, "if only the Burmese government would permit us to do it." U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says "clearly, more needs to be done":
"We have the capacity along with others to provide more assistance and to help deliver that assistance. So it’s been, unfortunately, a slow process in terms of opening up the ability to deliver some of this assistance. More of it is now funneling through non-governmental organizations and aid organizations that are on the ground, more so than before. But to really, really, have the kind of effect that is needed and that the international system is prepared to provide, you need a really widening of the aperture by the Burmese government in terms of willingness to accept inflows of expertise, as well as material."
The U.S., said Mr. McCormack, "would like the Burmese people to understand that not only the United States, but the outside world cares about them."