Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on May 2nd and May 3rd, sweeping through the Irrawaddy delta region and the countries largest city Yangon. Five states and divisions were declared disaster zones, i.e. Yangon, Irrawaddy delta, Bago, Mon and Kayin. In the aftermath of the cyclone, Antwerp University Hospital (Belgium) sent three medical teams (18 persons) to the affected area in the period May 27th - June 25th.
II. FIRST MISSION: May 27th - June 8th
On May 28th, a Belgian medical team consisting of 3 physicians, 2 nurses and 1 logistic aid, arrived in Yangon and travelled further to the south-west. The travel from Yangon to Labutta took more than 10 hours drive as roads were damaged.
Near Labutta, the team visited 3 refugee camps which were deployed by the Myanmar military. The following days the team travelled further into the delta by boat visiting 6 remote rural communities.
The Belgian team could observe that large numbers of the population had lost their homes and were seeking temporary shelter in community centres and monasteries. Yet, some inhabitants were already rebuilding their homes.
On the road between Yangon and Labutta, military trucks were seen transporting food, drinking water, medication and shelters.
b) Nutrition and hygiene
With regard to the future nutritional situation in the remote areas, the flooded rice fields and drowned water buffalos (which are used to plough the rice fields) pose problems. Also safe water supply appeared to be a major issue since many of the available water wells were contaminated by the tidal wave that followed the cyclone. In many areas this probem forced people to collect water from rivers or rainwater.
c) Medical aid
Antwerp University Hospital (Belgium) sent 4 tons of medical emergency health kits (WHO standard) to Myanmar which were used by the first team to meet basic health care needs of the local population. During its stay in the region of Labutta, the Belgian medical team treated injured people and distributed medication.
The medical team did not observe diarrhoea or dysentery. Skin infections were seen in some villages. A large number of health facilities in the affected region were completely destroyed.
During their stay, the 6-person Belgian medical team was assisted for transportation and language services by physicians of the Directorate of Medical Services (Ministry of Defence). While working in the region of Labutta, no restrictions were imposed.
In the delta region other medical-humanitarian organisations were active, i.e. Maltese International, MSF, Merlin and Adra.
The first mission returned to Belgium on June 8th.
III. FOLLOW-UP MISSION: June 15th - June 25th
On June 15th, a follow-up mission of two teams consisting of 3 physicians, 5 nurses and 4 logistic aids, travelled to Myanmar. The teams brought an additional 2 tons of medication and medical supplies to the country. On the field, they worked independently in the regions of Bogolay and Labutta.
During the second mission, heavy rains were continuing and the conditions for road transportation remained poor and difficult. Food supply to the affected areas appeared to be improved but logistical difficulties still hampered moving the goods into the affected areas.
Apart from medical interventions and the provision of basic health care to remote rural communities, the teams cleaned 20 contaminated water wells in the delta region near Labutta.
Many locals had put up temporary shelter for themselves using traditional natural materials. Yet, there were still survivors without adequate shelter; humanitarian assistance and technical support are required.
The follow-up mission returned to Belgium on June 25th.
IV. CONCLUDING REMARKS
Due to the extremely difficult accessibility of the affected areas (only by boat or helicopter), the emergency phase is set to continue for some time. We are now in a phase of early recovery.
As in any disaster, children remain the most vulnerable group. Lack of nutrition, water, sanitation and shelter could be a lethal combination.
Assessment teams are needed to all of the affected areas, particularly in the low lying delta region to assist the survivors in food, shelter, medical supplies and drinking water.
Given the devastation of homes and infrastructure, loss of agricultural land, loss of rice, loss of buffalos, more international support is needed.
Reducing the risks from future disasters presents an enormous challenge. Therefore, I hope that the recently installed Tripartite Core Group consisting of Myanmar, the United Nations and ASEAN will prove to be a lever for increased international collaboration.
Prof. Luc Beaucourt, MD
Chairman, Department of Emergency
Wilrijkstraat 10, 2650 Edegem (Belgium)
Tel. +32 3 821 48 00
Fax +32 3 821 31 11
Mob. +32 485 85 85 85