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Official: No World Bank aid for Myanmar

  • Story Highlights
  • World Bank official says bank will not provide financial aid, loans to Myanmar
  • Farmers and aid groups warn of future food crisis after rice seeds destroyed
  • Junta to allow neighbors to send medics and disaster assessment teams
  • More than 130,000 died in disaster; two million left homeless
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YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- As Myanmar began a three-day mourning period Tuesday, the World Bank reiterated that it cannot provide financial assistance or loans to the cyclone-ravaged country because of unpaid debts.

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People receive much-needed food aid in an Irrawaddy Delta village destroyed by the cyclone.

"Basically the situation is the same as for the past decade," said spokesman Peter Stephens. "Myanmar has been in arrears since 1998 and legally we cannot lend to a country in arrears."

The news came as farmers and aid groups warned of a future food crisis after the cyclone destroyed swathes of fertile rice-growing land.

Farmer U Han Nyunt told CNN shortages were likely because productive land and seeds had been ruined.

"We are all going to die here," Nyunt said. "But not because of the cyclone. We will die because we have no food."

However, there was cause for fresh hope Monday after the military junta which rules Myanmar decided to accept aid from its neighboring countries. It followed an emergency meeting in Singapore of the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In addition, the World Bank said while it could not provide financial assistance, it had promised to assist ASEAN with disaster assessment and relief work in the country.

Stephens said the World Bank would assist ASEAN by teaming up with officials who had experience in reconstruction efforts from the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia's Banda Aceh.

"The World Bank's role normally only comes in later, during reconstruction anyway," Stephens said. "At this stage, the relief coordination is very much in the hands of the U.N.," led by ASEAN. Video Watch footage of food being distributed »

With flags lowered to half-mast, Myanmar began a three-day mourning period Tuesday for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which reportedly killed more than 130,000 people and left at least two million homeless.

John Holmes, the top U.N. aid official, Monday toured the worst-hit areas of the country also known as Burma.

The junta has been strongly criticized by the U.N. and U.S, among others, for its reluctance to let foreign aid workers into the country.

People in the worst-affected areas say they have received no help at all from their government, a CNN correspondent in the country found.

"I have been trying to contact our government representative for two weeks," the village chief in Don Le said. "But so far I have received no reply." A quarter of the village's population was killed by the cyclone.

A villager named Ko U showed CNN where his house used to stand -- and the place he found the body of his three-year-old daughter.

"I dug her out of the mud and buried her on other side of the river," he said.

Corpses still line the shores along some parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

Many in the village remain traumatized by what they have witnessed and they said if they did not get more help soon, their future would be a fight for survival.

"We simply couldn't survive in our village any longer. We would starve if we stayed there," a woman packing her belongings into a boat told CNN. She did not give her name. Journalists who gave her some of their food were told it was the first supplies she had received in more than two weeks.

CNN is not identifying its reporter, who is traveling without the government's permission.

World Food Programme spokesman Marcus Prior said the agency was also finding settlements which had received little, if any, assistance.

The WFP said it had dispatched enough food to feed more than 250,000 people with a first ration of rice -- enough to last for two weeks -- as well as high-energy biscuits and beans. Video Watch footage of aid bottleneck »

But Prior called the aid insufficient and said it was arriving too slowly.

The U.N. and ASEAN Monday announced a joint international pledging conference, to take place Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar's main city.

The ASEAN assessment team would travel to Myanmar on Wednesday to gauge the impact of the disaster and the scope of aid needed. The same day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to arrive in an attempt to "accelerate relief efforts," a spokesman said.

In addition, ASEAN countries committed to send 30 medical personnel -- for a total of 270 -- to help with the medical needs of the displaced population.

The U.N. World Health Organization said the official toll of dead and missing exceeded 132,000, with more than 19,000 injured. The U.N. estimates that 2.4 million people have been affected by the storm.

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Aid agencies have struggled to gain access to the country from the military junta which rules Myanmar, and only a limited number of relief flights have landed. The regime has indicated that it would like supplies but not international aid workers.

ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

-- CNN's Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report

All About MyanmarNatural DisastersAssociation of Southeast Asian NationsBan Ki-moon

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