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UN Says 1 Million Burmese Children at Risk After Cyclone


A United Nations agency says that as many as one million children may be at risk of disease following Cyclone Nargis. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the concerns come as efforts continue to persuade Burma's military government to grant greater access to international relief agencies.

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, reports that tens of thousands of children are living outdoors, with little shelter from the monsoon rains.

Shantha Bloeman, a UNICEF spokeswoman in Thailand, says children make up 30 to 40 percent of the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma, also known as Myanmar, two weeks ago.

"The situation remains dire for children in Myanmar," said Bloeman. "Their physical and emotional well-being is of critical concern. Assessment reports indicate the destruction of homes, schools; water and sanitation systems are unrelenting threats to child survivors."

Bloeman said Friday the children face diseases such as cholera, and are vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse. Aid groups are trying to ensure that children remain with families or relatives to protect them.

The United Nations says up to 2.5 million people were affected by cyclone - the worst natural disaster in Burma in recent times. The official death toll is more than 43,000, but aid organizations estimate it could reach 128,000.

Pressure remains on Burma's military to allow international aid agencies greater access to the region to help survivors. A medical team from Thailand was due to arrive Friday to support relief efforts.

Steve Marshall, a spokesman for the U.N. country team in Burma, says that some aid is reaching the region, but it is insufficient. He says a much bigger international effort is needed.

"The issue of access in terms of our staff, as I've indicated, they are down there and they are working," said Marshall. "But the size of this for the government for the U.N. or for others actually requires a completely cooperative coordinated approach and it is too big for any one institution on its own to say it can look after things. It is simply too big."

Aid workers estimate that they have been able to reach less than a third of the storm's victims.

In the coming days, the U.N. humanitarian chief, John Holmes, will arrive in Rangoon to discuss relief efforts with the government. On Monday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will meet in Singapore to discuss how to increase aid to Burma, which is a member.

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