Overwhelming support from communities and people assists MSF relief effort in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis

Staff

MSF national staff are being sent to the Delta region from our other projects in Myanmar. Our national staff have shown tremendous dedication and have helped huge numbers of people through medical treatment and distribution of aid in extremely physically and emotionally difficult circumstances.

A mental health officer has now arrived in Yangon and is setting up a counselling service in Yangon and investigating the possibility of setting up a similar service in the Delta. Several staff have returned to Yangon after two weeks working in the Delta. The staff have had thorough debriefings in Yangon and been offered mental health support from counselors and psycho-social care specialists.

International staff

Approximately 26 visas have currently been issued for MSF expat staff and the situation for expats traveling to the Delta has relaxed somewhat. MSF now has expats working in Bogale, Pyenpon, Labutta and Heyngyi.

Ayeyarwady Delta area

MSF now has more than 250 staff on the ground in the Ayeyarwady Delta, with a total of 33 medical teams. MSF teams have reached around 120,000 people so far.

The main challenges facing people are access to suitable shelter, food and water.

MSF teams in the Delta have distributed at least 310 metric tons of rice, over 84 000 cans of fish, 16 500 litres of cooking oil and 13 500 plastic sheets.

Distributions

MSF teams are distributing supplies as they travel to the villages affected by the cyclone. Once a suitable distribution point is found, MSF staff give the aid materials directly to the villagers. The village chief and a monk are often present to oversee the distribution.

In the first weeks, MSF teams has been reaching many villages with first aid supplies and distributing available supplies. The government keeps records of the population so MSF teams were able to obtain accurate figures of people identified as living in the villages. However, the population lists are only accurate where people are still in their home villages, and not where displaced people have congregated in schools and monasteries.

The next step is to revisit the villages distributing accurate family rations of supplies. MSF teams are conducting head counts amongst the displaced population to assess the level of need.

The teams are distributing according to the needs of the population, with supplies of plastic sheeting, food, mosquito nets and water containers. Teams are concentrating on provision of clean water where there is no existing source. This is often through the distribution of washbasins, water containers and plastic sheeting to collect rainwater. People are also asking for more shelter materials, salt and clothes.

In the south of the Delta region, the entire population has been affected so it has been necessary to distribute large quantities of supplies. In the larger towns that suffered less damage, most of the relief effort is concentrated on the camps of displaced people. Most people who have lost their homes have now congregated in schools and monasteries.

Medical help

On average our teams are seeing around 500 patients each day. Many of the consultations are still injuries as a result of the storm, such as bone fractures, head wounds and infected wounds.

Our teams have also treated people with wounds similar to burns, which are actually the result of having sandy rain lashed at their skin by 120 mph winds. Some of the highest death tolls from the cyclone are fishermen, salt workers and people working at the shrimp factories on the Ngapudaw plain.

Almost three weeks after the cyclone, people are physically very weak and staff are seeing many cases of fever, respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. Referral cases are sent back to Pathein Hospital. There have been no disease outbreaks reported so far.

MSF counselling staff report seeing many people in the Delta who are suffering from severe mental stress as a result of the disaster. Many people are in a high state of confusion, some cannot show any emotion, and others refuse to accept that their families are dead.