Ottawa offers DART to Burma while Canadians open wallets

Canada offered its Disaster Assistance Response Team to cyclone-ravaged Burma late Thursday, but there are doubts the ruling junta will accept help from the military unit.

Ottawa offered its Disaster Assistance Response Team to Burma late Thursday, as Canadians continued to open up their pocketbooks for victims in the cyclone-ravaged country.

"We are now offering the services of our Disaster Assistance Response Team to help with relief efforts," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in a statement.

The relief team consists of about 200 soldiers sent to disasters to provide clean drinking water and medical treatment until long-term aid arrives.

Cyclone Nargis came ashore in Burma early Saturday, killing at least 22,980 people, according to the latest death toll published by state media Thursday.

More than 42,119 people are missing by official counts and the United Nations estimates about one million people were made homeless by the storm.

Canada willing to donate more money

Bernier said he spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon earlier in the day to reconfirm "Canada's support and willingness to help."

A Canadian advance team has already been sent to assess what kind of support can best be delivered to Burma, officials said.

Canada has already pledged $2 million for relief efforts, with $500,000 of that going to the Red Cross, but a government official confirmed Thursday that Canada will provide additional funds once the scale of the disaster is assessed.

Bernier added that he is "heartened" some UN officials and a relief flight have gained access to the country, but urged the reclusive junta to allow "unhindered" access for humanitarian workers so aid can quickly reach victims.

"The window of opportunity to save lives and alleviate suffering is rapidly closing. We cannot afford to wait any longer," Bernier said in the statement.

While relief agencies have some people on the ground in Burma who are helping give out supplies, many are still waiting for entry visas to be allowed into the country.

Relief workers have warned that time is of the essence for bringing in vital supplies — including food, drinking water, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and water-purification tablets — if a worse humanitarian crisis and higher death toll are to be avoided.

Some aid groups question whether it is worthwhile to send the military response team, saying relief organizations are able to do the job cheaper. There are also concerns about whether the ruling junta will even allow the military unit into the country.

"Given the difficulties in getting humanitarian workers into Myanmar, imagine how difficult it will be to convince the authorities to let in a military unit," Kevin McCort, president and CEO of CARE Canada, told CBC News.

Aid will reach the people, agency says

Meanwhile, Canadian relief agencies were trying to reassure people that their donations would reach those in need, despite concerns about the money ending up in the pockets of officials.

"I can tell you that the assistance and the support from the Canadian public will be reaching the people who really need it," said Charlie Musoka of the Canadian Red Cross, adding that the agency has more than 27,000 volunteers in Burma.

In spite of such concerns, Canadians seemed to be donating generously to support relief efforts for the hundreds of thousands of victims.

"I think people are starting to see the images of devastation through the media and we're seeing an outpouring from Canadians," said Tanya Elliott, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.

The agency said its online donations from individual donors so far total $156,000. The Ontario government has also donated $100,000 to the agency.

World Vision Canada, which has set a fund-raising target of $1 million, is almost at the halfway point, having received around $470,000 in the three days since it launched its appeal.

The organization is providing 10,000 kilograms of rice and 7,000 litres of water, along with other critical supplies, including sarongs, T-shirts, tarpaulins and blankets.

The Salvation Army in Canada has said it will allocate $50,000 from general funds to support the relief effort and is continuing to receive donations from Canadians.

Sue Rook, a spokesperson for Save the Children, said the Humanitarian Coalition has raised $70,000 since Monday afternoon. The Humanitarian Coalition also includes CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam-Québec.

"It's really picking up," said Rook. "The phones are really starting to ring. It's fantastic."