Aid experts on Wednesday warned of a looming health crisis in Myanmar, where millions of cyclone victims face outbreaks of disease as they struggle to survive without clean water, food or shelter.
Five days after Cyclone Nargis crashed into one of the world's poorest countries, killing more than 22,000 people, medical organisations say they are still trying to assess the impact in the remote worst-hit areas.
AdvertisementWith the repressive military regime blocking access to foreign relief workers, and huge logistical hurdles in accessing the inundated disaster zone, precious little supplies have reached victims so far.
Save the Children said it believed millions were homeless and there were worrying reports that Pyinkaya town in the southwest of the delta, home to 150,000 people, had had no supplies of food or clean water since the storm hit.
"Assistance hasn't reached them yet and they are dying, completely isolated," said the group's Myanmar country director, Andrew Kirkwood.
Experts warned that such conditions were ripe for disease and injury.
International SOS, an international healthcare provider with an office in Yangon, has issued warnings over the risk of tetanus, salmonella, typhoid, malaria, diarrhoea, Hepatitis A and a multitude of other illnesses.
Their initial findings show the biggest problem is water.
"What's coming out of the pipes right now is contaminated," said Uwe Stocker, International SOS's director for the Indo-China region. "Even if it looks clear, that doesn't mean it's safe."
Flooding and broken pipes have allowed sewage, toxic chemicals and groundwater into the supply. Polluted water makes cleanliness near impossible, and drinking it increases the risk of catching gastrointestinal diseases, Stocker said.
With much of the southwestern coast inundated, stagnant water is providing a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and insects that can carry diseases.
Families also risk contracting tetanus and infections from injuries as they rummage through their ripped-up homes, Stocker said.
"People will try to go through their damaged property, looking for valuables and even the remains of their loved ones," he said. "If they're injured, there's no normal hygiene here right now."
Stocker said the destruction of roads and vehicles will prevent wounded people from reaching health clinics and short-staffed medical teams will be unable to venture out to treat patients.
Doctors without Borders spokeswoman Veronique Terrasse said it was still too early to identify critical health needs since the organisation is awaiting better communication systems and reinforcements.
Its staff first has had to address the 16,000 HIV/AIDS patients it is responsible for treating in Myanmar, and then deal with the partial collapse of its clinic in Yangon.
"We're basically stuck," Terrasse said.
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