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. WHO sends body bags to Myanmar as corpses rot

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by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) May 13, 2008
The World Health Organisation said Tuesday it had sent body bags to cyclone-hit Myanmar, as experts warned that rotting corpses remain uncollected and pose a major health risk.

The United Nations' health arm said the body bags are among shipments of 30,000 surgical masks and 30,000 gloves that have been sent to the Irrawaddy delta region which was obliterated in the May 2 catastrophe.

A spokeswoman was not able to say immediately how many body bags have been sent. The UN has said it believes about 100,000 people were killed and reports from the disaster zone say most victims remain where they fell.

"Diarrhoea and dysentery cases have been reported, but no cholera cases were confirmed," the WHO said in a statement, amid fears that the decomposing bodies are contaminating rivers and canals where drinking water is being drawn.

"Immediate efforts are focused on ensuring care and treatment to the injured population and preventing communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, other waterborne diseases, acute respiratory infections, measles and dengue."

The sheer scale of the disaster, and the junta's floundering response, has meant there are simply no resources to bury or cremate the bodies of the victims, let alone the corpses of livestock that also foul waterways.

That has created heartbreaking scenes including the bodies of whole families floating in canals, their hands tied together with rope in a vain bid to save them from the onslaught of wind and rain.

In one tragic case, the limp bodies of a group of children were caught in branches by the riverbank, their small arms bound with rope, presumably by parents who believed they would be safer secured together.

After 11 days in the intense tropical heat, reports from the delta say the stench of death and decay from decomposing corpses is now overpowering.

The WHO said that as well as the body bags and other medical supplies that have been dispatched to the delta region, it has also sent eight emergency health kits, each of which can treat 10,000 people for three months.

It has also sent water treatment equipment, antibiotics and insecticide-treated bed nets to ward off malaria.

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Chinese soldiers and relief workers trudged through rugged terrain and driving rain on Tuesday in a frantic race to reach devastated communities cut off by a powerful earthquake.

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