UNICEF safe-water supplies arrive in Myanmar to aid cyclone survivors
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 9 May 2008 – A Thai International airliner carrying 3 million water-purification tablets for the victims of Cyclone Nargis landed in Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon, at 8:45 local time this morning.
“It’s landed and it’s gone to the warehouse,” said UNICEF Emergency Logistics Officer Paul Molinaro.
The cargo was shipped from UNICEF’s main supply warehouse in Copenhagen yesterday. UNICEF understands it could take between one and two days to be processed by Myanmar customs, after which time it will be distributed to needy families with UNICEF’s partner, the Myanmar Red Cross.
UNICEF is using commercial flights to transport supplies to Myanmar. Over the next few days, UNICEF plans to airlift additional medical supplies, intravenous glucose, filtration masks, vitamin A and emergency nutrition formula.
“We’re focusing on using commercial scheduled airlines. This is making it quite flexible in that we don’t need to send large loads all at once, we can send smaller loads as we process them,” Mr. Molinaro said.
“It’s also making it a lot easier to land in Myanmar because the airline networks already have landing rights and clearances,’ he added.
Unsafe water and sanitation
The United Nations says the situation is becoming increasingly precarious in Myanmar, with up to 1.5 million people affected by the cyclone that struck last weekend. There are fears that the death toll could reach 100,000. The low-lying Irrawaddy Delta is the hardest-hit area.
According to UNICEF Myanmar Officer in Charge Jaunita Vasquez, assessment teams have witnessed widespread flooding and damage, with trees uprooted and homes and schools destroyed. There is little safe water or electricity, children are on the streets and the rice harvest has been ruined.
“People have lost everything,” she said.
Although the crisis is just a week old, UNICEF staff report hearing about widespread cases of diarrhoea resulting from unsafe water and sanitation conditions. Children under five are particularly at risk.
“It’s a life and death situation for people right now,” said UNICEF Senior Emergency Water Advisor Paul Sherlock. “If you don’t have clean water, your body very quickly goes down. You’ll catch diarrhoea, your children will catch diarrhoea. Children are very, very vulnerable.”
In addition to medical supplies and oral rehydration tablets, UNICEF Myanmar has distributed about 15,000 kits that enable families to use small amounts of chlorine to treat their water.
The water-purification tablets flown in today will back up the family kits. “They will be used for purifying 3 million litres of contaminated water,” said UNICEF Chief of Knowledge Management Rudolph Schwenk.
‘Looking to repair the damage’
UNICEF is leading the water and sanitation relief effort in Myanmar. Because of the enormous logistical challenges of shipping large quantities of safe water – with the port at Yangon damaged and roads in ruins – tablets and kits are the most practical option at the moment.
“Tablets are easy to transport and they’re easy to get out. They are, in this particular crisis, one of the ways of getting to people,” Mr. Sherlock explained. He added, however, that UNICEF would move in to provide further support and repair damaged infrastructure as soon as possible.
“Whether that’s cleaning out wells, whether that’s repairing hand pumps or piped water supplies,” he said, “the main thing now is to save people. In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking to repair the damage.”
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Myanmar Cyclone Crisis 2008