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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

UN Secretary-General appeals for further cyclone aid as UNICEF supplies arrive

UNICEF Image: Myanmar, cyclone
© UNICEF Myanmar/2008
Cartons are unloaded from a chartered UNICEF-UNHCR relief flight that landed in Yangon, Myanmar on 13 May carrying water kits for cyclone-affected families.

NEW YORK, USA, 14 May 2008 – The devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis could quickly turn into a catastrophe for the people of Myanmar. According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the health of at least 1.5 million people is at severe risk. 

“We are at a critical point,” Mr. Ban said on Monday. “Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious disease that could dwarf today’s crisis.” 

UNICEF is working closely with local partners, including the Myanmar Red Cross, on the delivery of supplies. There are currently four mobile UNICEF teams in the six townships of the Irrawaddy Delta and another seven teams in 17 townships in the Yangon area.

Two flights carrying UNICEF supplies have landed in Yangon since Friday, and another flight carrying 18 tonnes of medical equipment was expected to arrive today. Additional shipments of medical and water supplies will be delivered to the Yangon port, which has been re-opened by the government.

'Like the tsunami'

UNICEF Myanmar's Chief of Health and Nutrition, Dr. Osamu Kunii, has been travelling around the affected region with mobile assessment teams. 

"We have seen a lot of people homeless, displaced and wandering around without any access to drinking water, food and health services," he said.

UNICEF Image: Myanmar, cyclone
© UNICEF/HQ08-0364
Villagers use UNICEF-provided bleaching powder to purify contaminated pond water in Kawhmu Township.

“It’s like the tsunami – in some of the areas, most of the water sources are affected by salt water and also very, very dirty water,” Dr. Kunii added.

In response, UNICEF is providing water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, among other essential supplies such as mosquito nets, shelter materials and medicines for infectious diseases.

The UN now estimates that between 62,000 and 100,000 people have lost their lives. Dr. Kunii noted that the death toll is so high, all the bodies cannot be collected – which also creates a serious health risk.

Threat of disease

The longer it takes for clean-up crews and humanitarian assistance to reach the affected areas, the greater the danger of further death from disease or starvation.

According to Dr. Kunii, diarrhoea and pneumonia are already occurring in the makeshift shelters at schools and monasteries around Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta. He warned that cholera, malaria and dengue fever could sweep through the camps if proper precautions aren’t taken. 

© UNICEF Myanmar/2008
UNICEF workers, a member of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and several other health workers travel by boat to a remote village in Kawhmu Township with basic medical supplies.

“Many people are in tears,” said Dr. Kunii. “Many children are left as orphans.”

Shortage of food

Providing health services has been further complicated by a grave scarcity of food. The cyclone flooded the rice fields that provide food for most of the region, and the coming rainy season may only deepen the crisis.

“Some of the people we met have had no food for several days,” said Dr. Kunii. 

On Monday, the Secretary-General appealed to the international community and the Government of Myanmar for help. 

“By one World Food Programme estimate, the volume of food so far allowed into Myanmar amounts to less than a tenth of what is needed. Rice stocks in the country are close to exhaustion,” said Mr. Ban. “There is absolutely no more time to lose.”




13 May 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the growing threat of disease in Myanmar, in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.
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13 May 2008:
UNICEF Myanmar Chief of Health and Nutrition Dr. Osamu Kunii reports on the urgent needs of residents of the country's cyclone-affected region.
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