40 per cent of Burma dead 'are children'
An estimated 40 per cent of the dead or missing after cyclone Nargis tore through Burma are believed to be children, international charity Save the Children said.
The agency said its workers on the ground believe that the casualty toll could be "much higher" than the official toll of 22,000 dead and one million homeless, comparing it to the 2004 Asian tsunami.
"It is a race against time and now our priority has to be those who are left. We urgently need help to be able to reach the surviving children and families," said Andrew Kirkwood, the charity's head in Burma.
He noted that the storm surge in many parts of the country's low-lying delta region was reportedly as high as 7.5 metres in places, "and as the delta is a very flat area we expect that many, many people drowned."
"About 40 per cent of the people living in the delta are children under 18, so we would expect that 40 per cent of the dead and missing are children," he said, cited in a statement.
A vast swathe of Burma's low-lying delta region was inundated by the storm which hit on Saturday, sweeping away entire towns, and triggering fears that disease could push the death toll still higher.
Pledges of cash, supplies and assistance are pouring in from around the world, but little is reaching the reclusive country, and experts are warning of a catastrophe if they are not allowed in to direct the relief effort.
"We know that some areas are still completely under salt water. Some people have no drinking water or food. Unless assistance gets into those kinds of areas very soon, the death toll will keep rising," said Mr Kirkwood.
'80 per cent destroyed'
Cyclone Nargis destroyed 80 per cent of buildings in the worst-hit parts of Burma, aid workers for Doctors without Borders (MSF) reported.
And their chief coordinator on the ground in Burma appealed for the authorities to let aid workers and supplies already standing by enter the country.
"Our first assessments show that, in the Daala and Twantey zones, south of Rangoon, home to 300,000 inhabitants, 80 per cent of buildings have been destroyed," said a statement posted on the group's website.
Some parts of the region were still flooded under one metre of water, it added.
MSF workers were busy distributing food and plastic sheeting and had begun treating water in Rangoon in order to make it drinkable, the statement added.
On Tuesday, they had handed out emergency food supplies to a thousand people in the Twantey area.
"In addition malaria and dengue fever are prevalent, even endemic, in this area, so MSF is also planning a mosquito net distribution in the coming days," the statement added.
Souheil Reiche, Head of MSF Operations (Switzerland) in Rangoon, said "Following the Government's appeal for international assistance, it is essential that emergency visas are issued and that relief shipments are allowed to arrive."
MSF teams had already been on standby for 48 hours waiting for clearance to come and help, he added.
MSF said a cargo plane with 40 tons of first aid materials, plastic sheeting, food and sanitary materials, was ready to leave from Europe.
No tidal wave warning
Burma appears to have alerted its people that a powerful cyclone was on its way, but lacked information about the deadly storm surge that came with it, the United Nations weather agency said.
World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) expert Dieter Schiessl told journalists that authorities in the former Burma began issuing forecasts of strong winds and rainfall several days ahead of Cyclone Nargis' landfall.
But it was the accompanying tidal wave that caused the most devastation.
"The overall wind speed was broadly correctly forecasted," said Mr Schiessl, the WMO's director for strategic planning and weather and disaster risk reduction.
"In a storm surge the shape of the coast and the geography of the ocean floor has a significant impact. That information can only be generated locally," he told a news conference in Geneva, the UN's European hub.
Burma is rarely subjected to storms of this magnitude. Its last tropical cyclone with coastal landfall was about 40 years ago, Mr Schiessl said.
Authorities in the isolated state, whose military regime has been rebuked by the United States and other Western powers, told the WMO that Burma's Department of Meteorology and Hydrology started issuing warnings about the cyclone on April 27, with data drawn from several monitoring centres worldwide.
"Timely and appropriate" information was transmitted to Government authorities and disseminated through national television, radio and the written press, the WMO said. It cited reports it received from Burma, which UN experts in Geneva have not been able to independently verify.
It is not clear whether Burma knew how to respond to those warnings, Mr Schiessl said, raising parallels to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in which hundreds of thousands of people perished.