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As Aid Delivery Arrives in Cyclone-Ravaged Burma, Fears Death Toll Could Top 100,000

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The first major international delivery of aid has finally landed in Burma amidst new fears the death toll from this week’s cyclone could top 100,000. We speak to Jeremy Woodrum, co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 06, 2008Report from Burmese-Thai Border on the Devastating Cyclone that Has Killed Over 15,000 People in Burma
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The first major international delivery of aid has finally landed in Burma amidst new fears the death toll from this past week’s cyclone could top 100,000. The initial toll was said to be 22,000, but a US diplomat says another 80,000 people might well have died. At least a million people are homeless.

Jeremy Woodrum is the co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma, joining us on the line from Washington. Jeremy Woodrum, what do understand is the latest, and is help on the way?

JEREMY WOODRUM: I think some help is on the way, but not nearly enough. The problem is the military has not granted visas to enough foreign aid workers to go inside Burma to actually deliver the aid. So, so far, countries have pledged about $40 million in support and also a lot of supplies, but it’s just not reaching the people. Or more accurately, I should say, only a trickle is reaching the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what you understand is the scene on the ground? Have you been able to reach people in Burma?

JEREMY WOODRUM: Well, in and around the largest city of Rangoon, I do understand that some existing NGOs that were there, international groups, have been able to provide aid. I think the bigger concern is in the Irrawaddy Delta to the southwest, which is not — the rural areas where aid is simply not being delivered and people aren’t being reached, not because of the lack of roads, but because of a lack of the government allowing people to travel there.

AMY GOODMAN: People might be confused. We continually refer to the country as Burma, the capital as Rangoon, but in other newscasts you hear Yangon and you hear Myanmar. Explain.

JEREMY WOODRUM: Well, the military regime renamed the country Myanmar. And so, we call it Burma in solidarity with human rights activists inside the country, and so do quite a bit of media reports. But generally, as a condition of reporting from inside Burma, inside the country, news organizations call the country Myanmar. So, it’s funny. A lot of journalists I’ve talked to who report from inside Burma would very much like to call it Burma, but they call it Myanmar so they won’t get kicked out of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: How much aid is the US giving now?

JEREMY WOODRUM: I’m not sure if very much aid from the US government has reached at all. There has been an offer on the table now for four days in a row, and so far the regime has rejected it. They’ve also rejected aid from a lot of other countries. But I think that the US so far pledged about $3.5 million and indicated that they’re willing to up that a lot. I think it’s the largest donation from any single country so far. I’d have to confirm that.

AMY GOODMAN: Does Laura Bush’s advocacy on this, saying she had a cousin who was a Burma activist, make a difference?

JEREMY WOODRUM: Well, it helps bring, you know, a certain kind of publicity to what’s going on inside Burma. Look, you know, we think it’s important for everybody to be speaking out about human rights in Burma, no matter what their sort of political persuasion. So, you know, it’s unusual where you have, you know, Susan Sarandon, Desmond Tutu and Laura Bush speaking similarly about a human rights situation, but it’s [inaudible] —-

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Woodrum, has Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who’s been imprisoned by the military regime, now under house detention for years, has she been heard from?

JEREMY WOODRUM: She has not. We did receive one unconfirmed report that she is OK, but we have not heard from her since the cyclone hit.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the single most important action that must be taken right now? I mean, we’re talking about -— if you’re talking 100,000, or perhaps more, it’s coming up to the tsunami casualty figures, and that crossed many different countries. This is one tiny country.

JEREMY WOODRUM: Yep. Well, yesterday, France made a move at the United Nations, since the regime had been rejecting international humanitarian aid. They made a move to force aid into Burma that would essentially overrule Burma’s sovereignty in this very limited circumstance and allow countries to bring in aid, food and supplies and water directly. I believe they’re going to make another try at that today. It looks like China will probably block it, but we’re hoping for the best.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the military regime could be washed away by this cyclone?

JEREMY WOODRUM: Ultimately, they could. In our limited conversations with the Burmese people that we have been able to contact inside Burma, they are very, very angry.

AMY GOODMAN: Angry at…?


AMY GOODMAN: Angry at…?

JEREMY WOODRUM: Angry at the military regime. Look, they weren’t warned about this cyclone coming at all. I mean, there was a couple articles in the back pages of newspapers, but people were left completely unprepared.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Woodrum, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma.

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