Scars of Nargis
By Ramesh Shrestha, UNICEF Representative in Myanmar
Yangon, 19 May 2008 - Last Saturday, I was among the 50 plus UN country team members and diplomats flown by the Government of Myanmar in three groups to see the cyclone affected areas and the relief efforts of the government. Our team visited four locations including Labutta, one of the most severely affected areas in Irrawaddy Delta.
In the locations we visited, there were 59 camps to accommodate thousands of displaced people. In one camp we visited some 200 tents housing more than 2,800 families. Each tent shelters up to four families. Privacy has become a luxury in these places due to congestion. We also visited two schools which are housing almost 6,000 people.
The local pagoda and the district council offices have become the warehouse for the supplies for the displaced population. We also witnessed large ships unloading supplies to smaller boats for inland distribution through waterways.
In the local hospitals, we saw traumatised children, adults and children with fractures, injuries and dislocations. There were doctors brought in from Yangon to assist the local clinics. There is still a need for more medical specialists, especially orthopaedic surgeons.
There was water, water & water everywhere. The water table is high and it is still raining intermittently which has created severe difficulties for proper excreta disposal. The overflow of surface drainage due to excessive rain is becoming life-threatening to the camp population.
The psychological scars left by Nargis will take a long time to heal particularly for children who lost their parents and close relatives but for the moment the priority is to ensure access to continued food supply, safe drinking water, sanitation and a proper shelter.
The government plans to move the displaced populations currently occupying schools to new camps so that the new school year can begin. There are also families who want to return to their villages to start rebuilding their lives with what they have and with what support they can get but “nature” seems not to be on their side with continued bad weather as the monsoon seasons starts.
The Myanmar Red Cross volunteers, local business community and the military have all provided support in the distribution of relief supplies. But, given the magnitude of problem their energies may soon be exhausted. The relief and rehabilitation efforts require professionals trained in managing emergencies. These people are in short supply. We believe there are still remote and isolated communities who have not received any help.
While the current relief efforts are ongoing a medium-term rehabilitation plan must be drawn up without any delay so that the affected population can be brought back to a semblance of normalcy as soon as possible. This will include the rehabilitation of farm land as well as the rebuilding of thousands of schools, and other public infrastructures.
UNICEF currently has 30 staff stationed in various locations in disaster struck areas, working closely with the Myanmar Red Cross and government staff in the distribution of relief supplies and in conducting assessments which will be used for rehabilitation and reconstruction activities.