10,000 Perish in Myanmar Cyclone

by Gopalan on  May 6, 2008 at 11:03 AM General Health News
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10,000 Perish in Myanmar Cyclone
Over 10,000 people may have died while thousands of others have been rendered homeless in Myanmar as Cyclone Nargis devastated the country over the weekend.

The death toll could be the biggest from a natural disaster in Asia since the tsunami of December 2004.

Local media reports said that entire villages had disappeared after the ten-hour cyclone. A state of emergency has been declared.

Hundreds of thousands of people are reported homeless and food and water is running short.

"The confirmed number is 3,934 dead, 41 injured and 2,879 missing within the Yangon and Irrawaddy divisions," the government broadcast said.

With roads blocked and power and telephone lines down, the authorities were assessing the damage and foreign aid groups were mobilizing for a disaster the full extent of which was still not yet fully clear.

"We are dealing with a major emergency situation and the priority needs now are shelter and clean drinking water," said Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the United Nations disaster response office in Bangkok.

In an e-mail message from the main city, Yangon, one resident reported: "Stories get worse by the hour. No drinking water in many areas, still no power. Houses completely disappeared. Refugees scavenging for food in poorer areas. Roofing, building supplies, tools — all are scarce and prices sky-rocketing on everything."

Despite the devastation in the main city of Yangon and through the Irrawaddy River delta, the government said it would proceed with a constitutional referendum planned for Saturday that is intended to formalize the military's grip on power.

The junta that rules Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has closed the country off from the outside world and maintained its grip on power through force while its economic mismanagement has driven the country deeper into poverty.

The country has been under military rule since 1965 and continues to suppress political opposition. The pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

The immediate problem now in affected areas was survival, with water and electricity cut off, roads blocked by fallen trees, roofs torn off homes and prices for transportation and food rising fast, writes Seth Mydans in New York Times.

"People are starving," an unidentified resident was quoted as saying by the Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway.

"Fuel is becoming scarce," the resident was quoted as saying. "People are likely to die of starvation. If international help doesn't come within a week, it will be impossible to survive. There will be nothing left to eat."

 Horsey of the United Nations said teams representing various aid groups were trying to assess the damage in the disaster areas, where half the country's population of 53 million lives.

Despite concerns from human rights groups that the junta would not allow outside aid groups into hard-hit areas, Horsey said, "There are discussions ongoing. My impression is that they are receptive to international assistance."

Some aid had already been stockpiled in anticipation of natural disasters, he said.

"It will take a few days until a complete and accurate picture of the impact and of the numbers of people affected comes out," he said. "The road network has taken a significant hit and moving around is difficult, and the communications network is essentially down."

Even without the destruction from the cyclone, travel and communications can be difficult in the country due to its weak infrastructure, said David Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar with Human Rights Watch.

In Yangon, he said, people may only usually get five or six hours of electricity a day, and some remote areas have no access to electricity. "So the fact that electricity is down is not really that important," he said.

Jens Orback, a former minister for integration and democracy in Sweden, was in Yangon when the cyclone hit.

"Trees that were standing there hundreds of years fell easily," he said, "and things from roofs fell down and the electricity went down and there were only flashlights. In the first days you couldn't go anywhere by car. No telephones worked. The Internet was out and there was a lack of information.

"What struck us also was that in the first daylight nobody from the police, military or firemen was out working with the devastation but people privately were there with knives and machetes and hand saws."

Aung Zaw of Irrawaddy Magazine said that groups of monks joined residents in clearing the streets, but that in one case they had been prevented from leaving their monastery by armed police. As centers of the September uprising, some monasteries remain under police or military guard, he said.

Source: Medindia

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