According to UN estimates, Cyclone Nargis has affected up to 2.5 million people. The devastation is of overwhelming proportions: more than 100,000 killed; 200,000 missing; a million people
homeless and the destruction of Burma’s chief rice growing area. Whilst the immediate humanitarian need is urgent in the five crisis areas originally indicated by the Burmese Government, Cyclone Nargis is also likely to have far reaching repercussions on the political and socio-economic situation in Burma.
Without careful consideration about the medium to longer term implications and needs that may
arise from the disaster there is a real danger that this crisis could further exacerbate conflict within
the country and also result in severe and widespread malnutrition.
As Caritas Australia continues to receive disturbing first hand reports from Burma cyclone survivors, the organisation has pledged to continue its support for the long term, Mr Jack de Groot, CEO of Caritas Australia, said yesterday. A Catholic assessment team in Burma, which made contact with Caritas Australia recently, described the devastation still coming to light in Burma.
A man from the village of Thingan Gyi, near the city of Laputta, shared his tragic story: “My name is U san Myint. My wife and four children died. My baby boy, who is just 10 months old, my fourteen-year-old daughter and I survived. Only three from my house of seven remain alive.”
“I was holding my wife’s hand but she and some others were sucked under. She reappeared and shouted to me to save the baby,” he said.
His wife let go of his hand so that he could take the baby, knowing that she would lose her own life. “I was dumbfounded,” the distraught man said.
“Because of the wind, the whole village disappeared. All died. Humans, pigs, cows; all gone. On the way here, we saw many corpses. My daughter survived because she was in Laputta when the storm came. We now have medicine but the baby needs milk. In the area around us, 20,000 people died. All the dams broke and the water poured out. I nearly drowned three times,” he said.
The Caritas network has scaled up its emergency response in Myanmar despite ongoing difficulties with access for international aid teams. The relief effort is now targeting over 60,000 people through local partners with food, temporary shelter, health care, and other aid items in four of the most seriously affected areas. Volunteers are also providing assistance with burying bodies.
“The people of Burma are going to need our help not just in the immediate relief effort – which is still an urgent priority, but for a long time to come,” Mr de Groot said.
“If access continues to be restricted, the immediate picture for the 2 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis appears bleak. We are doing what we can and we are making a real difference to the lives of many,” Mr de Groot said.
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