Burma Cyclone Death Toll Climbs; thousands of survivors at risk

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MYANMAR (Burma) — Thousands of cyclone survivors are at continued risk as people leave the Irrawaddy Delta region to find food and shelter, according to a recent reports. Burma announced May 13 that the death toll has passed 34,000. The United Nations estimates the death toll could be as high as 100,000.

The latest reports indicated that almost 2 million people in Myanmar are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger, but obstacles are preventing the massive influx of supplies and relief workers needed to prevent a horrible catastrophe. The Danish Red Cross estimates only one out of 10 Myanmar citizens in need has received any kind of aid in the six days since the cyclone hit, according to an Associated Press news report.

World Vision assessment teams have reported displaced people living in appalling conditions in makeshift shelters and camps, where overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are prevalent.

Food and shelter are scarce for the thousands of villagers leaving the hardest-hit areas of the Delta region. Drinking water is contaminated by salt, human bodies, and animal carcasses.

"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to ensure people have access to potable drinking water and sanitation," said Samson Jeyakumar, a child development specialist with World Vision. "Disease outbreaks spread by dirty water, poor sanitation, and mosquitoes are a major concern. Our priority will be to save children and their families from diseases that spread quickly, such as diarrhea, dysentery, malaria, and others in the wake of disasters such as this."


Relief ministries find ways around Myanmar politics
In Myaung Mya, an area 30 miles north of the devastated town of Labutta, World Vision's national staff reported that there are approximately 30,000 people are seeking food, water, and medical attention. Children — many of them orphans — are suffering from fever, diarrhea, and respiratory infections.

World Vision has been supplying clean water to survivors in the Irrawaddy area. According to a World Vision press release, their teams have started chlorinating wells, providing water tanks, and disinfecting camp sites with bleaching powder. They have also distributed clean water, rice, and other emergency aid, such as clothing, blankets, and tarpaulins to more than 78,000 people in Yangon.

Samaritan's Purse chartered a cargo plane that was scheduled to fly into Myanmar, on Wednesday, May 14, bringing desperately needed water purification kits, heavy-duty plastic for temporary shelters, clothing, and thousands of blankets and mosquito nets.

Samaritan's Purse has a team in Myanmar that includes specialists trained in providing food and water in crisis situations according to their press release. They are working with local churches and Christian leaders to establish feeding centers and distribute aid.

"The city and country are in shock," said one Samaritan's Purse team member. "Yangon has been heavily hit. Trees and power lines are down, and water availability is severely limited."

A desperate plea was found written in Burmese on an asphalt road in one stricken village: "We are all in trouble. Please come help us." Nearby was another urgent message: "We're hungry."

"Please pray fervently for the people in Myanmar who are suffering," Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response said. "Ask the Lord to break down the barriers that are keeping supplies and relief workers from reaching them.

"We have been able to establish some degree of communications with our in-country partners, and we are seeking alternative methods of getting resources into Myanmar. But we are experiencing the same frustration everyone else is experiencing in trying to connect Myanmar's people in need with people who care."


Myanmar military using devastation for propaganda
Myanmar's military regime began distributing international aid Saturday, May 10, but it is covering the boxes with the names of top generals in an effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise, say news agencies.

According to Ekklesia news www.ekklesia.co.uk, the United Nations sent in three more planes and several trucks loaded with aid, though the junta took over its first two shipments. The government agreed to let a US cargo plane bring in supplies Monday, but foreign disaster experts were still being barred entry.

"State-run television continuously ran images of top generals — including the junta leader, Senior General Than Shwe — handing out boxes of aid to survivors at elaborate ceremonies," said Ekklesia.

One box bore the name of Lt. General Myint Swe, a rising star in the government hierarchy, in bold letters that overshadowed a smaller label reading: "Aid from the Kingdom of Thailand."

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

"It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he declared.

Burmese state media say 23,335 people died and 37,019 are missing from Cyclone Nargis, which submerged entire villages in the Irrawaddy delta. International aid organizations say the death toll could climb to more than 100,000 as conditions worsen.

The Ekklesia story concluded by saying, "The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million to 2 million people have been severely affected and has voiced concern about the disposal of bodies."

Ways to help those in Myanmar (click on the names below):

Red Cross
World Vision
Baptist Global Response
Samaritan's Purse
Operation Blessing
Rescue Task Force