Almost four weeks after the cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, foreign aid workers have started arriving in some of the critical areas to help victims in need of food, water and medicines. At least 134,000 people have been left dead or missing and an estimated 2.4 million people have been displaced after the tropical storm struck in early May.
A group of homeless residents at a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Yangon
Many international aid agencies have sent aid workers to the most affected areas of cyclone-hit Myanmar in the past few days. This has only been possible since the junta lifted restrictions on international relief workers last week following a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
One of the teams is from Japan. The 23-member group, including four doctors, seven nurses and a pharmacist, will work for the next two weeks in areas around the town of Labutta in south-western Myanmar, where more than 34,000 people are believed to have been injured by the Cyclone, says one of the team members: “Our aim is also to show the needy people in the affected areas that there are people, who want to help them. This is a very important point in this mission.” The UN has warned that the cases of epidemics such as Cholera, Malaria and Dengue fever are on the rise.
Optimism despite obstacles
Nyi Nyi is one of residents from Yangon. He, along with his friends, has been actively involved in the relief work for the Irawaddy delta. He has in fact visited the delta twice, ever since the cyclone struck. He says there is a wave of optimism now: “The change from last week is that people are hopeful now that they can live with it and they can survive. They have cleared the roads, fallen trees etc. Most of them are building their own temporary shelters. I got the feeling that they have calmed down now. Last time I found them frustrated, and in despair."
A number of UN helicopters unload relief material at the international airport in Yangon every day, which is then sent to the Irrawaddy delta. The UN estimates that more than a million people have still not received any assistance.
If the operation runs smoothly, almost all the survivors can access needed items in almost four weeks, says Tony Banbury from the UN’s World Food Programme. “Some are hard-to-reach areas. Even by boat it will take a long time and will be hard to reach them. We need more helicopters in the country now in order to reach them.”
Flow of aid still not smooth
However the flow of international aid is still not very smooth. Many human rights groups have complained that the junta has continued to create obstacles for some aid agencies and that many of their staff members have still not received permission to enter the most ravaged areas.
The U.S. Navy also said earlier this week it might consider withdrawing its ships, waiting to deliver aid, from the coast of Myanmar because the junta has turned down offers of help.
Meanwhile the state media has criticised the international aid pledged for the country. Donors have so far pledged about $150m in aid for Myanmar, which is far less than the government’s request. The junta says Myanmar will need at least 11 billion dollars in assistance to recover from the disaster.