Westport, Conn. (May 11, 2008) — As the death toll in Myanmar from Cyclone Nargis continues to climb – and with more than 1 million lives in the nation's delta region still at severe risk – Save the Children is expanding its relief efforts as it continues to reach tens of thousands of survivors with life-saving materials.
Save the Children has mobilized its large staff of 500 staff members in Myanmar to respond to the emergency and deliver much-needed food, water and other materials both by truck and boat throughout the delta region hit by the cyclone.
Save the Children has reached 100,000 people in three Yangon townships and has distributed 175 tons of relief supplies to other affected families throughout the region. Supplies have included rice, water, oral-rehydration solution, blankets and materials for cooking and shelter.
Save the Children's country director in Myanmar, Andrew Kirkwood, said that the agency's first relief boat reached the delta area of Pyin Kayaing on Sunday. The team distributed rice, water and oral-rehydration solution to 9,400 people, including 2,350 children under 12, in 13 villages. Families in this area are staying in crowded monasteries living in makeshift shelters made from plastic sheeting.
While relief efforts are expanding, staff members warn that clean water remains in short supply and many communities are still isolated and without help. The survival of tens of thousands of children and their families remains in doubt.
Compounding the crisis: Weather forecasts are calling for five days of rain and wind across the zone most affected by the storm.
"Time is of the essence, and we must assist as many people as possible in the coming days," said Ned Olney, Save the Children's vice president for international humanitarian response. "Survivors are facing severe threats to their health — from waterborne disease, malaria, from sleeping out in the open and from having to go so many days with little food and water. Already we are seeing numerous cases of diarrhea, a major killer of young children."
Throughout the delta region, many villages have been devastated, with thousands of homes destroyed, and more than 3,000 schools damaged. The low-lying Irawaddy Delta suffered the effects of a sizable storm surge and many areas remain underwater, hampering relief efforts. Much of the delta is reachable only by boat.
"Save the Children is mobilizing its staff — many of whom have also had their homes damaged — to reach vulnerable children and families in the five hardest-hit districts," said Olney. "Shelter materials, clean water, mosquito nets and emergency health kits are critical needs at this time."
Authorities have declared five regions with an estimated total population of 24 million to be in a state of emergency, including Yangon (Rangoon) Division, Pegu Division, Mon State, Karen State and the Irrawaddy Division. This delta is considered to be the country's rice basket and already, the cost of food has doubled in many markets.
"The impending rainy season is likely to complicate an already desperate situation," said Olney. "The current lack of clean water will directly impact the health of children and their parents. And standing water only increases the possibility of an outbreak of waterborne illness. We need to move aid quickly to alleviate current hardships and mitigate the potential for a greater crisis."
Save the Children has raised $1.5 million in donations and pledges for its response to the cyclone, which struck Myanmar's southwestern coast early on Saturday, May 3. Save the Children worldwide is seeking $10 million in donations for its relief efforts.
Save the Children currently operates programs in all five of the affected regions and has worked in Myanmar since 1995. As one of the largest nongovernmental organizations at work in Myanmar, the agency implements programs focused on early childhood care and development, child survival and child protection. All staff members are safe and accounted for, although their homes and families have been affected.