Muddy Notebook

May 6, 2008

Update on the cyclone in Myanmar

Filed under: humanitarian,Myanmar — carolynthewriter @ 6:14 am
Tags: , ,

Not surprisingly, the estimate of the dead and missing has gone up dramatically since the cyclone hit over the weekend. Here’s an update from Bloomberg news. Also, check out the comment/link left on my previous post by a blogger at Global Voices Online. Here’s Bloomberg.

 May 6 (Bloomberg) — The death toll from the tropical cyclone that slammed into Myanmar three days ago rose to 10,000, according to the military government, making the storm Southeast Asia’s deadliest natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami.

About 3,000 people are missing in the Irrawaddy delta region alone, Myanmar government ministers told international diplomats yesterday, the United Nations news agency IRIN said.

Power was knocked out in the former capital, Yangon, and drinking water was contaminated in the city of 5 million people. “At least eight townships are completely or mostly destroyed,” said Pamela Sitko, a worker with the U.S.-based Christian relief group World Vision, who has spoken with colleagues in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The U.S. yesterday offered an initial $250,000 in aid to the country, which is among the world’s least-developed, while castigating its military leadership for failing to alert citizens to the approaching cyclone.

“Although they were aware of the threat, Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path,” First Lady Laura Bush said from the White House.

Death Toll

The death toll would be the worst since a 9.1 magnitude earthquake offshore from Aceh on Indonesia’s Sumatra in December 2004 caused a tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, devastating coastal communities and leaving more than 220,000 people dead or missing in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries.

“The UN will do whatever it can to provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York. “Because of the lack of communications, we are not quite sure what will be the total extent of damages and casualties. I am very much alarmed by incoming views that casualties have risen to more than 10,000, according to Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry.”

Cyclone Nargis packed winds of 120 miles (190 kilometers) per hour when it struck the coast May 3, sending the sea surging as much 12 feet (3.5 meters).

State of Emergency

The government declared a state of emergency in five low- lying provinces, mostly in the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta, where villages were flattened by winds and rain, the UN said. Myanmar has a population of 47.8 million.

“The water supply is unfit to drink in the aftermath of the destruction, raising fears of water-borne diseases” in Yangon, IRIN reported.

A UN disaster-assessment team was dispatched to Bangkok, and the world body is prepared to provide a grant from the $500 million Central Emergency Response Fund, created to rush aid to nations in need, spokesman Farhan Haq said.

The UN Children’s Fund and its Development Program, which have offices in Myanmar, stockpiled food, water and medicine before the storm. They will distribute water-purification tablets, plastic sheeting, food and cooking sets in Yangon and the delta region.

Flooding, blocked roads and disrupted communications are hampering efforts to assess the extent of the damage, according to the world body.

International Assistance

The junta has requested international assistance and UN officials are engaged in talks with Myanmar authorities on how best to help, IRIN cited Richard Horsey of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as saying.

“Discussions are taking place in New York and on the ground about what is needed,” he said.

The price of food surged after the cyclone struck, according to the Irrawaddy newspaper, which is published by Myanmar dissidents in neighboring Thailand. An egg now costs between 200 and 250 kyat (20 cents) in Yangon versus 50-70 kyat before the storm, while one viss (1.6 kilograms) of pork is between 8,000 and 8,500 kyat, compared with 4,500 to 5,000.

Myanmar is regularly hit by cyclones that form in the Bay of Bengal between April and November. Nargis struck as Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, prepares to hold a referendum on May 10 for a new constitution before elections scheduled for 2010.

The junta vowed to press ahead with the referendum after the storm, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a state-run newspaper. The U.S. State Department said April 11 the referendum is an attempt by the military to retain power. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the vote is being held in a climate of repression and called the referendum “a sham.”

“They’ve orchestrated this vote to give false legitimacy to their continued rule,” Laura Bush said at a press conference in Washington.

President George W. Bush has instructed the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Burmese state-owned companies that are held in U.S. banks, she added. The move would expand sanctions imposed last year.

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