(AFP) – May 9, 2008
BANGKOK (AFP) — Desperate survivors of the Myanmar cyclone are facing serious health worries one week after the disaster, with everything from disease to snake bites putting some 1.5 million people at risk, aid groups say.
Those still alive are battling myriad problems -- dirty water, no food and long exposure to the sun -- and experts warn that without immediate relief, the death toll from Cyclone Nargis will keep rising.
"The three basic needs are still not being met for hundreds of thousands of people: food, clean drinking water and emergency medical goods," said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Programme in neighbouring Thailand.
"Continued exposure to the sun for people who have lost their homes, for people who have lost the roofs on their houses, is critically dangerous, especially for the children and for the elderly," he said.
The regime has blocked journalists and international aid workers from coming in to assess the situation, making it difficult to get a true picture after the storm, which the government says left 60,000 dead or missing.
"I can't think of any previous natural disaster that has occurred in a country that has accepted in principle the offer of international assistance but has not accepted the offer of skilled technicians and humanitarian workers to come with that aid," Risley said. "That's what is shocking."
Aid experts experienced in similar disasters know that certain kinds of problems are on the horizon -- especially with huge swathes of the country still under water -- and that time is running out to prevent them.
"The thing we are really worried about is the kids because they're particularly susceptible to water-borne diseases," said James East, Thailand spokesman for aid group World Vision.
"You get dysentery, typhoid and diarrhoea, and people begin to lose a lot of body liquids," he said.
The majority of the annual 1.8 million deaths from water-borne diseases are children.
The regional spokesman for the UN's emergency relief arm, Richard Horsey, said there were already reports of diarrhoea outbreaks.
"There are reports of 150,000 people stranded and unable to move in the southwest delta," he said.
"We're also getting reports of many people making it out of the affected areas, which is a sign that not enough assistance and food stocks is getting through."
Meanwhile the UN Children's Fund UNICEF said Myanmar's authorities had agreed to an inoculation campaign in the near future -- but not just yet.
"We want to get safe water and sanitation out, but measles is a deadly disease in a situation like this," UNICEF spokeswoman Shantha Bloemen said. "We usually try to do injections as quick as possible."
Aid agencies are attempting to procure what boats they can locally, but further transport equipment has not yet been given clearance to enter the country.
An aid worker from the Merlin charity who is based in the hardest-hit southern delta said she faced a daunting task.
"The scale of destruction is immense. People are scrambling for shelter and food. People need clean water to survive and are struggling to find it," she said.
"Malaria and dengue fever which are endemic to the area are set to increase. Deadly snake bites are a growing issue as everyone heads for safety," she said.
"Power and communications are very limited, making it very difficult to operate. Most people here are still in a state of shock. It's a daunting task."
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