(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cyclone Giri tests government-aid agency relations

A young girl in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta
Stacey Winston/ECHO

Cooperation has been good between relief agencies and national authorities after Cyclone Giri struck western Myanmar on 22 October, but it is still too early to know what access international staff will have to the hardest-hit areas.

“Neutral humanitarian assistance is more accepted now than in [Cyclone] Nargis times, so we will see in the coming days,” said Bernd Schell, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Myanmar.

Cyclone Nargis, which hit in May 2008, became the largest natural disaster the country had experienced.

International relief agencies in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, have begun sending national staff members to the coastal western state of Rakhine to join colleagues already in the field measuring damage inflicted by the category-4 storm (category 5 is the worst).

“We have sent out two teams this morning [from Yangon] and have one more going out this afternoon,” said Schell. IFRC’s international staff is on “stand-by” in the capital, ready to join national staff carrying out assessments in the field and awaiting permission to deploy, he added. “We have requested access and are ready go.”

Thus far, international NGOs have only sent national staff to cyclone-hit areas to join national NGOs already working in affected villages.

Schell said local capacity to respond to disasters had improved in recent years, alleviating some pressure on international staff to go into the field.

“A lot of support had been given to the areas that were hit this time, which helped to minimize damage,” he said. Teams of 30-50 Red Cross national volunteers have already begun damage assessments in eight townships in Rakhine State. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been trained in disaster preparedness.

There has been “major learning” since Nargis, UN Resident Coordinator Bishow Parajuli said. “This is evidenced by the advance deployments, evacuations [from high-risk areas]. Details are still emerging.”

Early estimates show two-digit deaths and injuries and up to 10,000 homes damaged, he added.

“International and national UN staff are on stand-by for deployment, depending on the level of devastation and expertise needed,” said Parajuli.

A preliminary Red Cross assessment in one of the townships hit, Kyaupyu, on 24 October, showed at least 4,500 affected people. Information from ongoing village visits has shown still-unquantified housing and agricultural damage, added IFRC’s Schell.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is compiling information from relief agencies for an updated report on the cyclone’s aftermath for publication on 26 October.


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