Cyclone Nargis is a tsunami scale disaster, say agencies

By staff writers
May 6, 2008

Development agencies say that the final outcome of the Burmese cyclone disaster, which latest reports suggest has claimed over 23,000 lives, may be on the scale of the Asian tsunami a few years ago. They are urging a global response.

Some 41,000 people are also missing three days after Cyclone Nargis hit the country, causing a huge tidal surge to sweep inland, according to state radio.

Ecumenical partnerships, working through Action by Churches Together (ACT) worldwide and Church World Service (CWS) in the USA have been galvanising international support, seeking the relevant permissions from the government in Burma - which in the past has been reluctant to receive outside support, but this time is adopting a different approach.

The junta has nevertheless been accused of mishandling the situation, both in terms of a slow response and in relation to its failure to address underlying development issues - especially the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Immediate relief operations are underway with an ongoing comprehensive assessment. The CWS Asia Regional Office is in direct contact with the Myanmar Council of Churches, and ACT member DanChurchAid (DCA) is also gathering information.

DCA reports that 80 to 95 percent of all the houses in the slum areas and in the villages around the capital have been razed to the ground. People are desperate, with tens of thousands in need of shelter.

Profiteering is already starting to grip those coping in the storm's aftermath, with prices on food, fuel and building supplies shooting up 300 percent. The General Secretary of the Myanmar Council of Churches reports that communication abilities throughout Burma have been compromised.

ACT member Christian Aid, based in the UK, is also monitoring the situation closely and has set aside an emergency grant for immediate relief once permission has been granted for access to the country.

The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar is primarily located in the Northwest part of the country and is not directly affected. There is one Presbyterian church in Yangon.

The UN World Food Programme said its food aid had begun to reach people in and around Rangoon. Additional truckloads of food will be dispatched on Wednesday to Labutta, which it said was the area hardest hit.

It said many of the coastal areas in the Irrawaddy delta remained cut off and isolated due to extensive flooding and road damage.

The WFP said it had more than 800 tonnes of food available in its warehouses in Rangoon and would airlift additional supplies into Burma as soon as possible.

Thailand has already flown in some aid, India is sending two naval ships, and Bangladesh has said it will fly food and water purification tablets to Rangoon on Wednesday. Many other countries have promised further assistance, reports the BBC.

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