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UNICEF Estimates Children Account for One-Third of All Deaths From Cyclone Nargis

The U.N. Children's Fund estimates one-third of all those killed by Cyclone Nargis in Burma are children. Burmese authorities report more than 22,000 people lost their lives and more than 40,000 are still missing. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Children's Fund says in any disaster, children suffer the most. And, the disaster, which hit Burma a few days ago, is no exception.

Deputy Director of UNICEF's Office of Emergency Programs, Pierrette Vu Thi, says children are most at risk from getting sick. During a disaster, she says children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

"A number of children have died," she said. "Many are separated from their families and injured and many are traumatized. We know, let's say from statistical experience that we can estimate that about a third of the affected population are children. We are still probably underestimating the impact and the gravity of the situation on the ground."

About 24 million people live in the five regions struck by Cyclone Nargis. The Irrawaddy Delta River area is the worst hit, with up to 95 percent of the population affected.

UNICEF has 130 staff members in Burma, all of whom, it says, responded within a day to the disaster. The aid workers distributed stocks of emergency supplies that had been pre-positioned in the country to the victims, including family health kits, water purification tablets, tarpaulins and mosquito nets.

But, Vu Thi says these supplies are not enough to meet the critical needs. She says the agency is appealing for more than $8 million to provide assistance over the next three months.

The United Nations has asked the Burmese government to allow 100 disaster relief experts to enter the country. Vu Thi says 12 UNICEF experts are included in this list. So far, she says a handful of people have been granted visas, but none of the UNICEF experts are among them.

She says she is concerned that Burma's reluctance to accept outside help might be hampering the relief effort.

"We are finding out that the scope of the catastrophe really requires now a major response and much bigger than what we are able to deliver now in the country on the ground," she said. "We are aware of this and we are very worried about that. Now, whether this is affecting lives directly in terms of causing deaths, that I cannot answer."

Vu Thi says it is urgent that the emergency response be stepped up. She says assessments need to be made to know the extent of the damage, the impact on the survivors and the needs. She says she fears more tragedies will be discovered in the coming days.