Burmese children facing starvation, agency warns

Thousands of children who survived Burma's cyclone will starve to death in two to three weeks unless food is rushed to them, an aid agency warned Sunday.

Thousands believed malnourished amid cyclone's devastation

Thousands of children who survived Burma's cyclone will starve to death in two to three weeks unless food is rushed to them, an international aid agency warned Sunday.

Buddhist monks joined a peaceful protest in the Thai border city of Mae Sot on Sunday. ((Stephen Puddicombe/CBC))
Save the Children said it believes 30,000 children under the age of five in the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta are already severely malnourished after Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2.

"We are extremely worried that many children in the affected areas are now suffering from severe acute malnourishment, the most serious level of hunger," said Jasmine Whitbread, who heads the agency's operation in Britain. "When people reach this stage, they can die in a matter of days."

Burmese refugees desperate for aid to start flowing to their families back home held a small protest on Sunday in Mae Sot, Thailand, which borders Burma. About half the city's 150,000 residents are political exiles or refugees from the neighbouring country.

Demonstrators told CBC News they're frustrated over the slow pace of aid distribution and that the international community should be pushing harder to gain entry to cyclone-ravaged areas. They said their families in Burma are starving and that the military regime is not doing enough to help.

A breakthrough appeared to be on the horizon Sunday. Burma's military government gave permission for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta to visit areas hardest hit by the cyclone, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

The announcement came as John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, arrived in Burma's largest city, Yangon, late Sunday to meet with the country's leaders.

Military junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe had refused to take telephone calls from Ban and didn't respond to two letters from him, Montas said. Holmes was to deliver a third letter.

Risk of arrest

The cyclone hit just over two weeks ago, killing at least 78,000 people. Another 56,000 people are officially reported as missing.

International aid is arriving in Thailand for the victims, including a shipment from Canada on Saturday, but  the junta insists on handing out the aid without assistance.

A number of Buddhist monks joined the more than 100 people in Mae Sot who took part in the peaceful protest, which was confined to a small courtyard.

Burmese are not allowed to hold open demonstrations in Thailand. Violators risk arrest by Thai police and deportation.

With files from the Associated Press