As the UN estimates that at least 1.5 million Burmese have been “severely affected” by Cyclone Nargis, most of the affected are still waiting for aid to not only arrive in the country but to arrive where it is needed most. The Times Online reports:

Almost a week after Asia’s most devastating cyclone for 17 years, tonnes of emergency aid for Burma are waiting on relief planes parked in nearby countries while the country’s military rulers stall and bicker over letting in foreign aid.

Indeed, with the situation worsening, nations like the United States and France are calling for aid to be delivered with or without Burmese permission. A picture is emerging slowly of how ill-prepared the nation was for an environmental catastrophe, with the New York Times reporting that “the inability of the government to clear debris and restore basic utilities like water and power in what is the country’s wealthiest city are a measure of how difficult Myanmar’s overall disaster recovery could be.”   

Where is the aid?

So far, shipments have arrived from Japan, Bangladesh, India, Laos, China, Thailand, and Singapore, according to the Associated Press. The UN World Food Program (WFP) delivered its first planeloads Thursday. Relief agencies including the WFP, however, reported that many of their staff were still having trouble getting into the notoriously closed country, which has been ruled by a secretive military junta since 1962. “A few visas are coming through. But there are still a number of key [UN] staff who have not gotten their visas,” says Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, speaking from Thailand. — Christian Science Monitor

The news from the disaster experts about Burma’s devastated delta region confirms the grim reality. An internal report by an international relief organisation says: “The situation at the temporary relief camps is horrific. There is no food. People have been relying on porridge. There is not enough shelter. “People have just one set of clothes; some are even wearing jute bags. There is not enough drinking water. There are no sanitation facilities whatsoever. Many people have wounds that are not being attended. The estimated number of people in these 26 camps is 100,000.” The Independent

Cholera outbreak looms:

Local medical personnel said some survivors from Kyein Kyi Chaung village in Bogalay have died of cholera. Cholera has also occurred among some survivors from Laputta. The government has been transferring Laputta refugees to Myang Mya Township daily, according to an army officer. “The cholera outbreak has begun,” said one medical worker. “People have nothing to drink so they drink water from the creeks and rivers. So that is how the outbreak began. “These waterways are dirty because they are littered with bodies and animals. The survivors know the water is dirty, but they have no other choice and have had to drink the dirty water. That’s how they contracted cholera. “This is the time for us to stock up on cholera medicine for the possibility of an outbreak in the near future. However, we do not have enough medicine.” — The Irrawaddy

Eyewitness accounts:

This e-mail just in from an expat friend living in Yangon: “In our house we were trapped when tress around the house fell over after 11 hours of strong winds at 200-240 knots. The mess is terrible everywhere, with all electricity down and no water for days. Our home/office phone lines are down including all power lines. I am here today at the internet café. This area on Mahabandoola Street is open again in downtown Yangon, as they had underground wiring and cables. All the rest of us who live in residential areas & in the city are left with no power. We are looking at 3 to 6 months, or maybe 1 year to get power again! To add more stress, all food and water has gone up 3 times the price. As each day goes by, the price of generators go up; we paid $2,000 for a generator that is usual priced at $900 to$1,200. So it’s really bad. All of us are unhurt, but we are still having to cope with this situation.” — Bangkok Dazed

What we desperately need is experience aid works and rescue units to help the survivors, to dispose the dead bodies properly and to control the deadly diseases. We need helicopters to go to the most remote areas where the aid is greatly needed. In Burmese air force, we have limited numbers of helicopters and they won’t be able to help those from remote areas. US military is offering aid mission. The US airbase in Thailand is ready to send its helicopters and ships to Burma for search and rescue mission. And again, Burmese generals are not going to accept the offer because they are Americans. This is not the time for like or dislike. This is the time to save as much people as we can. I was so surprised to see that dead people being dump into the rivers. I’m wondering what they are thinking. It won’t solve the problem by throwing the dead bodies in to the river. In fact, it will endanger the people who are living along the river bank with deadly diseases. In a matter of days, the death toll will increase again. — Soe Moe

Electricity supplies are cut off, while diesel, natural gas and petrol are unavailable. Drinking water is the most pressing need besides food, shelter and medicine. Prices of these and building materials – timber, zinc sheet roof, canvas, plastic sheets – have sky rocketed. In one of our project sites, Haigyi Township in Irrawaddy 2,000 households have been damaged and more than 9,000 people have lost all their possessions. In Rangoon, big trees collapsed on the nearby houses. Due to collapsed trees and heavy winds, telephone poles as well as electric pylon were also destroyed. As a result, telephone lines as well as internet connections are down. Our office was also damaged. Roofs have been blown off and the ceilings have fallen down. Consequently, most of our computers are no longer working at the moment due to the damage. Our team is in the field is continuing to investigate the ground situation in our project area.’Joint statement from French and English foreign ministers. — Reuters Alertnet

We will get down to the job. We will not let our longstanding and deep concerns over democracy and human rights hold back the lifesaving work at hand. The regime in Naypyidaw has announced it will go ahead with the referendum on its constitution tomorrow, a process that excludes Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic groups. It is clear, however, that the conditions on the ground make the free and fair process demanded by the UN Security Council all the more difficult. We believe the priority should be the humanitarian crisis. Now is not the time to be making decisions about the country’s political future. — Times Online

The regime:

The junta must admit it does not have the capacity to tackle this gigantic relief task by itself. Nor can it rely on the assistance of a few trusted neighbours like Thailand, India and China. The work of delivering help to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis will be one of the biggest logistics challenges the international aid agencies have ever faced. Burma will need all the assistance it can get to to bring this help to its people in the first stage and to rebuild their homes and restore their normal life at a later stage. The Burmese junta is notorious for its ruthlessness and lack of human concern whenever it needs to exert power to remain in control. There is little doubt the leaders in Rangoon will not care if more of their own people die, so long as they can keep Western influence out of Burmese internal affairs. — Bangkok Post

“We are outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma to welcome and accept assistance,” said (the UN’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes). “It is clear that the government’s ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited. And a government has responsibility to protect its own people, to provide for its people. And since it is not able to, you would expect the government to welcome assistance from others.” — Voice of America

Don't get mad. Get Crikey.

Get full access including Side View and Crikey Talks.

Subscribe now and save 40% on a year of Crikey and get one of our limited edition Crikey sticker packs.

Hurry! Ends midnight Friday.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
40% off + free merch