On 2 May 2008 tropical cyclone Nargis hit the coast of Myanmar and devastated large parts of the low-lying delta region of the Irrawaddy River. Winds exceeded 190 kilometres per hour as the storm ripped through the Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon (estimated population 6 million) for over than ten hours. Homes were flattened, more sturdy structures damaged, trees uprooted and power lines downed. In rural parts of the country up to 95 per cent of all homes were destroyed.
This is a situation that the country has not dealt with before and the scale of the needs is clearly massive. Casualty figures continue to rise. The data that is currently available to the International Federation suggests that up to 1 million people might have lost their homes.
Myanmar: Red Cross Red Crescent relief operation continues as more aid arrives in Yangon
9 May 2008
Today, another Red Cross Red Crescent shipment of aid arrived in Yangon, Myanmar. This time, 8 tonnes of tarpaulins and jerry cans touched down late in the morning on a scheduled commercial flight out of Bangkok.
“Local Red Cross volunteers have been delivering vital aid such as water purification tablets and jerry cans to affected villages in the delta region,” says Michael Annear, regional disaster response coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“Yesterday, in one township near Yangon, Red Cross volunteers were able to distribute 15,000 water purification tablets to people desperately in need of clean drinking water,” he added.
The International Federation has two more shipments of aid scheduled to arrive over the weekend with both consignments made up of emergency shelter supplies, additional jerry cans and mosquito nets.
Once the aid arrives and clears customs it is either shipped straight to a Myanmar Red Cross warehouse in Yangon or, if it arrives early enough in the day, it is put straight on trucks to be distributed to affected communities outside of the city and in the Irrawaddy delta.
“The amount of activity inside and outside the Myanmar Red Cross office in Yangon is very inspiring – with so many young volunteers helping stack water, clothes and other household items to get ready to move out to people in need,” says Joe Lowry, information delegate for the International Federation in Myanmar.
According to Lowry, 220,000 cyclone survivors have received humanitarian assistance, with one third of this population having been reached by Red Cross volunteers.
First Red Cross Red Crescent relief flight arrives in cyclone-devastated Myanmar
9 May 2008
A plane laden with emergency relief supplies arrived at Yangon international airport late last night local time (8 May). The flight, chartered by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, took off from Kuala Lumpur carrying five tonnes of emergency shelter equipment.
This flight and the others scheduled to follow are vital for the growing relief operation says Bridget Gardner, the International Federation’s head of delegation in Myanmar.
“One of the immediate needs is to get shelter to the people,” she said. “Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and are sleeping in temples and pagodas or in the open.”
A second, eight-tonne consignment left Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled commercial flight later in the evening, and is due to arrive in Myanmar this morning via Bangkok.
“Our plan is to use a combination of charter flights along with all the available commercial air space that we can get,” said John Sparrow, spokesman for the operation in Kuala Lumpur. “We’re also looking at overland options. Every option, every idea is being explored.”
Thousands of Myanmar Red Cross volunteers are working around the clock in the country’s devastated delta region to support the communities affected. However access to the region remains very challenging.
Additional Red Cross and Red Crescent technical experts are also arriving in Myanmar. The first, a regional disaster management coordinator arrived on Tuesday (6 May) with additional personnel due to land in country today.
A regional disaster response team (RDRT) comprising trained aid workers from the Philippine and Indonesian Red Cross Societies will join the growing delegation in the coming days.
“The challenge now is to get these resources out to the most vulnerable people in the delta as quickly as we can,” said Ms Gardner.
“The situation there is a humanitarian catastrophe.”
For more information on the International Federation’s operation, visitwww.ifrc.org/myanmar
Appeal coverage: Therehas been a huge and verygenerous response fromdonors to this appeal, andwith many confirmedpledges and indications ofsupport, this appeal isalready well covered. Initialplanning is underway incountryas the InternationalFederation’s ability to scaleup effectively increases tosupport Myanmar RedCross Society and to meetthe huge needs, taking intoaccount various operationalconstraints. A revisedappeal will be issued nextweek; Tuesday at theearliest, as the MyanmarRed Cross Society president and International Federation head of country office will be on anassessment visit of the Ayeyarwady delta.
The government has estimated that 75 percent of schools in the seven most severely affected townships have collapsed while the remaining 25 percent have lost their roofs. Given the gravity of the situation including the lack of food and water, some organizations have reported fears for security, and violent behaviour in the most severely afflicted areas.
The US military is planning to send one C-130 plane on Monday, as well as two more on Tuesday, as test flights. These will be carrying emergency relief items. It is not clear what arrangements for distributions have been made.
There are heavy showers forecasted for next week, especially Tuesday through Thursday. This may have implications for access as roads potentially flood and this may hamper relief operations.
The government of Myanmar is on a four days leave, ending Tuesday because of the national referendum in most of the country.
Tropical cyclone Nargis (which means daffodil in Urdu) struck the mid-south of Myanmar on 2 May. The scale of destruction and loss is massive. Official government casualty figures have remained unchanged: 22,000-plus dead, 41,000 missing, and about 1.5 million affected. Other, higher casualty estimates have been made, but have not been substantiated. The consequent storm surge (reportedly 3.5 metres in many areas and occasionally seven metres in some parts – important to note
that this is different to a tsunami) caused the most loss of life rather than the cyclone per se. On flat land this phenomenon can be – and has been – devastating. While technology allows cyclones to be ‘seen’ in terms of wind speed and rain potential, storm surges are much more difficult to predict.
Red Cross Red Crescent action: Operation overview
The main needs are for safe drinking water, emergency shelter, hygiene items and food. The threat of health problems and communicable diseases looms greatly over the affected communities.
The in-country team has started to prioritize areas based on impact maps and the limited information available. This will assist in trying to develop longer-term distribution plans as well as contribute towards the revision of this appeal.
The field assessment coordination team (FACT) health delegate (a Japanese Red Cross
representative) has arrived, and a water and sanitation emergency response unit (ERU) is due to arrive tonight (10 May). ICRC has a flight with water and sanitation equipment and two delegates arriving tonight (10 May).
Today, (10 May) MRCS/International Federation sent to the Ayeyarwady townships of Mau Bin and Myanamya, the following items:
• 300 shelter kits, 300 cooking sets, 600 jerry cans
• 6,000 water purification tablets
• clothing for 1,500 people
• hygiene items for 1,500 people
• 1,500 mosquito nets
Within Yangon, (Kawhmu and Kyeemyinding townships), the following was distributed:
• 400 cooking sets
• 600 jerry cans
• 4,000 water purification tablets
• hygiene items for 2,000 people
• 2,000 mosquito nets
Progress has been made with identifying further distribution routes by boat from Yangon. The regional logistics unit in Kuala Lumpur is leading planning on logistics, which is already emerging as one of the keys to this evolving operation, more so than in even other complex humanitarian disasters.
Coordination and partnerships
Meetings were held with the UNDAC team to gain an overview of the situation, as well as UNHCR on the Emergency Shelter Cluster. Similarly in Bangkok, the International Federation was represented at the logistics cluster meeting as well as the IASC daily brief.
Similar inter-agency meetings were also attended in Geneva and New York, to ensure good coordination and information sharing at all levels.
Capacity of the national society Any arrival of substantial numbers of delegates and partner national societies threatens to overwhelm the national society and the possibility for other priority personnel and goods to get in. A strict timetable has been drawn up in country on who – in terms of technical expertise – needs to come in first etc. The aim of this is to ensure that the operation scales up both in quantity and quality, in the most effective way, with the limited resources we are able to get in-country.
Capacity of the International Federation
An 18-strong field assessment and coordination team (FACT) has been mobilised. A core advance team is in Myanmar the remainder are arriving at the International Federation’s Southeast Asia regional office in Bangkok, and will subsequently be deployed to Myanmar. The bulk of the team was briefed extensively by the regional office today. The FACT will support the Myanmar Red Cross and the International Federation country office in assessing, planning and cooperating with other humanitarian agencies on the ground. This team will also review existing assessment information, recommendations and actions, and work with the government and other humanitarian agencies, to identify gaps or needs that need to be addressed.
The team will also formulate a plan of action in order to keep overall relief efforts moving in a coordinated and effective manner. The first regional disaster response team (RDRT) members (from Malaysian Red Crescent Society) have arrived. The other members (from Indonesian Red Cross and Philippines Red Cross) were today briefed in Bangkok.
• The logistics ERU of British and Swiss Red Cross members have arrived in Bangkok.
• Three chartered Antonov 12 rotations have been confirmed for next week.
• A commercial flight departs from Kuala Lumpur tonight (10 May) with 8 MT of jerry cans and mosquito nets. Space on commercial flights have been confirmed for Sunday and every day next week. Between 3 to 11 MT of jerry cans, mosquito nets, tarpaulins will be shipped each day.
• The regional logistics unit in Dubai and the Bangladesh country office are working hard to find air charters for their stock.
• Framework suppliers for major relief items are on alert and exploring possibilities for air charters.
Communications – Advocacy and Public Information
There has been huge international and national media interest in Red Cross operations and perspectives. International Federation communication teams in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Geneva have worked closely with those of national societies to produce phenomenal media coverage. The access provided to the head of country office and zone disaster management coordinator in Myanmar and the press conferences they have given, have produced tremendous impact, and have been
particularly rewarding in terms of portraying the realities on the ground and the efforts of the Red Cross to address the huge humanitarian needs. Working as a Federation in communications is essential if all our national societies are to be served ultimately.