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Update: Cyclone Nargis

There are unfortunately a limited number of people on the ground operating within Burma, so all reports from cyclone areas are difficult to verify. As is usually the case with Burma, the stories coming across the border are both beautiful and horrific. Over the past week I have battled conflicting feelings leading to tears and laughter.

People say that there is no greater test of humanity than to observe how it responds in crisis. The cyclone is a crisis like none other and the amazing work that has occurred as a result is a strong testament to the people of Burma.

It is in that spirit that I pass along the following reports from inside.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently sent two trucks full of supplies through Mae Sot into Burma. Previous shipments have been turned back and denied entry.

A representative from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stated that there is no evidence that donated items are being sold or redirected. Less official sources indicate otherwise although nothing has been confirmed. For more official news, visit the OCHA website.

There have been some reports of troops leaving the army to help their families in affected areas. There are suggestions that martial law may be applied in the cyclone area within the next few days. There are no indications of refugee movements toward the border with Thailand yet, but the Delta and the border are a long way away.

The weather forecasts more rain. Currently, there is a cluster of tropical thunderstorms developing in the Gulf of Martaban which are already affecting Rangoon and the Irrawaddy River Delta. There is a chance these storms could be upgraded in danger.

All numbers are inaccurate, but Reliefweb has published a UN estimate of 1.6 to 2.5 million people severely affected by the storm, including half a million children.

A personal email from Cholia reads:

Myself and my family is safe, but not in real sense as we have already lost more than one hundred thousand fellow lives, still thousands missing It is a big disastrous event as I have never seen in my sixty years of life.

I managed to start an emergency relief unit in my organization, providing food packages, consisting rice, beans, cooking oil and canned fish as a one week ration. Presently I could provide for one hundred families and hope to expand it to two hundred by next week. Yangon area is returning to normal, but the suburb areas are still immerged in water, with dead bodies floating.

Updates from the work being done by Metta are available on the group’s website but I want to highlight some of their work here. Since the day the cyclone hit, their team has been on the ground in a good position to deliver assistance. Children in temporary camps in Pathein are already being organized into schools where six teachers are running a kindergarten program.

Since May 7th, a doctor has been working in Bogalay and two more doctors are on their way to the area. Three doctors are currently travelling to A-Ma sub township near Bogalay to assist people there. Metta is running a camp for those who lost their home in the storm in Pyin-hka-yaing Island. Half of the staff at the camp were trained by Oxfam in Disaster Management and Preparedness.

Direct from Metta:

We would like to take this opportunity to bring the spot light to the true heroes of Metta’s activities: the community members themselves! Without their tireless work, we would not have been able to reach as many people nor accomplish as much as we have. It is our privilege to have worked with these communities since 2004 with the tsunami rehabilitation in the construction and development of 15 early childhood care and development (ECCD) centers, 35 renovated schools, water and sanitation, and over 1,000 mangrove nurseries in the coastal and delta regions of Myanmar. Because Metta has had staff working in full cooperation on all levels from the beginning—from local authorities, community leaders and to individual villagers—we are able to help best by facilitating, coordinating and supporting community initiatives in their relief activities. The trust and relationships shared between Metta and its partners has enabled everyone to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible. Each community is the catalyst that changes this overwhelming task into one of success!

There still is so much to do however. The delta areas have endured heavy rainfall for several days because of a newly forming cyclone that (luckily) dispersed this afternoon. The rains continue but at least it will not be accompanied by cyclone winds in the next few days. Although the survivors in the camps seem to be doing well, those who remain in the shattered villages still lack proper shelter.

Metta continues to locate more areas to assist. We have added two new locations to our current activities. In Pya Pon, Metta is trying to engage communities by delivering 100 bags of rice.

The township has lost many lives, but the rice should be able to assist over 4,000 people living there. Currently, 1,000 people are staying at a monastery and approximately 3,000 do not have access to proper shelter. There are no relief camps in Pya Pon. We are planning to provide plastic tarpaulin for them to construct makeshift tents soon.

In the second new Metta site, Mau-u-bin which is between Yangon and Pathein, nearly 5,000 people have arrived with great need for mosquito nets. During the wet season, malaria, dengue and various vector-bourne diseases are threats. The surviving population is spread out among the various relief camps and our team has already distributed 500 mosquito nets with plans to give 320 more in the coming days.

The rescue boats sent to search for survivors in the lowest part of Delta have arrived to Myaumya with 1,074 more people from the directly hit areas. They have been weakened with no food or water for several days and in great need for medication and food; Metta currently supports them with basic necessities.

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