The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for nearly $6 million to help cyclone victims in Burma. The Red Cross says this preliminary appeal will deal with emergency needs and will be followed by a much larger appeal, once the full extent of the disaster is known. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.
The International Red Cross calls this a monumental disaster. It says the full extent of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis has yet to be assessed. But, what is known is very disturbing.
Burmese officials report more than 22,000 people have been killed and more than 40,000 others are missing. These figures would make Nargis the world's deadliest storm since 1991.
The Red Cross reports 95 percent of houses in villages along the Irrawaddy River Delta have been destroyed. It says more than a million people are homeless. Aid workers report roads are blocked, making it impossible for them to reach many devastated areas. They say communications, electric power lines, water and sanitation systems are down.
Red Cross spokesman Matt Cochrane tells VOA cyclone survivors need everything. They need emergency shelter to keep them dry. They need food. He says stagnant waters are a perfect breeding ground for the malaria mosquito, so insecticide-treated nets are needed. He warns the risk of epidemics is great.
"We are really looking to get purification tablets in and potable water out to these affected communities as quickly as possible," he said. "There is always a risk in a disaster like this that, if clean water does not get out to communities very quickly, then you run the risk of a second disaster of serious outbreaks of water-borne diseases."
Polluted water can cause cholera and an epidemic of diarrhea, a major killer of children under five.
Burmese officials are suspicious of foreign interference and experts from international aid agencies are having difficulty in getting the visas they need to enter the country. Relief agencies are calling on the government's military rulers to relax restrictions so that life-saving operations can get fully underway.
Meteorologists say cyclones can be predicted with great certainty 48 hours before they occur. The government of Burma is being criticized for not having alerted its people of the impending storm early enough for them to take action that could have saved lives.
Matthew Cochrane says he cannot speculate on these reports. But, he agrees that early warning is of vital importance.
"In the lead-up to this disaster, we had been working with the Myanmar [Burmese] Red Cross to preposition stocks as we do in many countries in southeast Asia as the monsoon season and the storm seasons approach," he said. "We preposition stock in areas vulnerable to flooding and storms... But, I think again you have got the absolute point that it is always so much more effective to respond to a disaster before it happens than to have to respond once it has happened and it claims so many lives and displaced so many people."
Cochrane says the federation's regional disaster management coordinator has arrived in Burma and that this will make the humanitarian operation more effective. He says a plane with emergency shelter kits from Kuala Lumpur arrived in the country Wednesday.