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Myanmar Appeals for Global Aid as Death Toll Rises

Myanmar's military government is struggling to cope with a devastating cyclone that hit Saturday. Officials said Tuesday that at least 22,000 were killed and hundreds of thousands are homeless.

Unlike after the tsunami a few years ago, Myanmar's reclusive government has appealed for help from international aid agencies as food and water run short — although there are no reports yet of new aid being allowed in.

"We have to welcome the fact that they've said that they need international aid," James East, World Vision communications director for the Asia-Pacific region, tells Steve Inskeep. "That's a change. I would like to think it's an opportunity for engagement."

President Bush said Tuesday that U.S. aid was already making its way to the stricken country.

"The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more. We're prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing and to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country."

East says there are reports of piles of bodies in the hardest-hit areas. And in eight townships in a low-lying river delta, 95 percent of the homes had severe damage — which amounts to 2 million people, he says.

World Vision has hundreds of people working in Myanmar, where access is strictly regulated. Normally, those workers are dealing with issues of agricultural assistance, trafficking and HIV/AIDS, East says. They're now engaged in assessing the scale of the disaster and distributing water and rice to stricken areas.

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