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Assessment hard in wake of Cyclone Nargis destruction

A map showing Myanmar and surrounding countries.
(Wikimedia Commons)

At least 243 people were killed and tens of thousands made homeless when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on 2 May and swept through parts of the country the following day, according to state media. Flooding, blocked roads and disrupted communications are hampering efforts to assess the full extent of the damage, UN officials said.

Early on 3 May, the tropical cyclone, which was packing winds of 190 kilometres (120 miles) per hour, slammed into Yangon (also known as Rangoon), the country’s former capital and home to more than five million people. According to Chris Kaye, the acting UN resident/humanitarian coordinator in Yangon, the cyclone caused severe damage in the low-lying city with extensive flooding and roads blocked by falling trees and debris.

According to UN officials, the water supply is unfit to drink in the aftermath of the destruction, raising fears of water-borne diseases. Electricity is not working, landline communications are disrupted, mobile phone communications work sporadically, and radio and television networks are not operating. In addition, ocean storm surges of up to 12 feet (3.5 metres) are putting residents of coastal communities at high risk, meteorological officials said.

Authorities have ordered all Yangon residents to stay at home, and all flights to Yangon International Airport have been diverted.

The government has declared a state of emergency in five low-lying provinces, most in the Irrawaddy delta. 

Coordinating response 

UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are meeting to assess the situation and will work closely with the national Red Cross Society and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, which is responsible for coordinating the response to natural disasters.

Michael Annear, Asia and Pacific Disaster Coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN from Bangkok that a joint IFRC and Myanmar Red Cross team was undertaking a needs assessment in Yangon on 4 May and that on 5 May three Myanmar Red Cross teams will assess affected rural areas.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have field officers in place in Yangon and throughout the delta area. UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations have stockpiled food, water and medical supplies in various locations, including the delta region and Yangon. UN officials said they anticipate an urgent need for plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, cooking sets, bed nets, emergency health kits and food.

Cyclone Nargis continued to move northeast on 4 May into Thailand though its effect is said to be lessening. Bangkok media reported that Thai navy ships rescued 302 stranded tourists from Surin island in the Andaman Sea and the Thai meteorological office has issued a warning of possible flooding and landslides on 5 May in 16 provinces in the west and northwest of the country.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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