IOM Rushes Medical, Shelter Aid to Cyclone Nargis Survivors

Date Publish: 
Myanmar / Asia

"Tell them we'll take whatever they have," shouts Emergency
Coordinator Federico Soda into the crackling Skype line linking his
office in Yangon's Trader's Hotel to the emergency response support
team huddled around a speakerphone in IOM's Southeast Asia Regional
Office in Bangkok.

The "whatever" is three USAAF C-130 transport planes on the
tarmac at Thailand's Utapao military airbase – two of them
loaded with 8,500 family hygiene kits and a third with 224 30 by 7
metre rolls of plastic sheet – the equivalent of 2,240
tarpaulins – donated by the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) for survivors of Cyclone

A USAID donation earlier in the week, which included four Zodiac
inflatable boats with outboard engines, 2,400 10-litre jerry cans
and 768 hygiene kits, made Soda's day. The boats, which arrived in
Yangon on May 26th, will play a key role in IOM's emergency
response, allowing mobile medical teams based in Bogale in the
Irrawaddy delta to reach outlying settlements desperately in need
of help, but only accessible by water.

With as many as 130,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million
displaced and in need of humanitarian aid in the wake of the
cyclone which struck the Irrawaddy delta and Yangon on May 2nd and
3rd, IOM and other relief agencies are under no illusion that the
needs of survivors in a region already impoverished before the
disaster are vast.

"We know that a month after the cyclone, aid has probably
reached less than half of the affected population. So while our
mobile teams are providing medical treatment and assessing needs in
the delta, we are now shipping in whatever we can in terms of
essential medicines and emergency shelter materials," says IOM
Yangon Chief of Mission a.i. Mac Pieczkowski.

Donations of medical supplies and equipment, including a health
kit to meet the needs of 10,000 people for three months donated by
the NGO International Medical Corps (IMC), have flowed into
Thailand for onward shipment to Yangon through a newly-opened
United Nations (UN) logistics hub at Bangkok's Don Muang airport,
according to IOM Emergency Logistics Officer Al Meneses.

"We are moving 40,000 plastic sheet tarpaulins and 147 portable
water purifiers from suppliers in India, as well as
locally-purchased medicines through Don Muang on UN-charter flights
in the coming weeks," he says.

The relief supplies and equipment, which are offloaded on
arrival to an IOM warehouse in Yangon and have included some 14 MT
of medicines donated by the NGO AmeriCares Foundation and 10,000
treated mosquito nets donated by the Swiss Agency for Development
and Cooperation (SDC), are distributed in the delta by IOM national
emergency medical staff or through NGO partners, in close
cooperation with UN and government counterparts.

IOM, which has operated in Myanmar under a Memorandum of
Understanding with the Ministry of Health since 2004, had over 200
local staff mainly working on grassroots migrant health projects in
Mon State before the cyclone. Since the disaster, it has redeployed
some medical staff from Mon State to the delta, hired new local and
international staff in Yangon and flown in emergency experts from
neighbouring countries to support the mission.

"We now have eight medical teams working out of our Bogale
sub-office. One team focuses on displaced people sheltering in
temples and other temporary urban relief sites. The other mobile
teams provide medical outreach to communities south of Bogale and
in Mawlamyine Kyune, many of which can only be reached by boat,"
says Soda.

"Most of the cases are acute respiratory infection, injury and
diarrhoea. But there is also a need for psychosocial care for
people traumatized by the cyclone. We are now coordinating the work
of international agencies that can help in this area at the
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Health Cluster in Yangon,"
he adds.

While IOM has ramped up its international staff in Myanmar to
respond to the disaster, it is prepared to commit far more to the
relief and reconstruction effort, if asked to do so by the
government and the international community, according to Director
General Brunson McKinley, who attended a donor conference
co-chaired by ASEAN – the Association of South East Asian
Nations – and the UN in Yangon on May 25th.

"Myanmar has stated a preference for aid workers from ASEAN
member states. We have a pool of some 1,300 ASEAN national staff
working in eight of the ten ASEAN countries, whom we can deploy at
short notice, if the government decides to provide free access and
issue visas," he notes.

Questions of access for aid workers and relief items continue to
dog the international response to Nargis. Donors attending the
Yangon conference, who have pledged to cover some 65 per cent of a
USD 200 million UN Flash Appeal to help the victims, told the
government that much of the money will be contingent on issuing
more visas and allowing free access to affected areas for
international relief workers.

At the time of writing, IOM had received visas for some 13
international staff, the majority of them nationals of ASEAN member
states. The visas allow free movement in Yangon, but do not
guarantee access to cyclone-affected areas in the delta.

There are some positive signs of greater access to the delta
following the Yangon conference, with several agencies reporting
access for international staff accompanied by ministry officials.
But progress remains painfully slow in the face of the growing
humanitarian needs of survivors yet to be reached and the onset of
the monsoon.

IOM is appealing for USD 8 million for emergency shelter and
health projects, as well as funds to coordinate the activities of a
temporary settlements working group within the IASC Emergency
Shelter Cluster to help people displaced by the cyclone now
sheltering in camps, temples and public buildings.

It had already received USD 1.88 million, including USD 1.45
million from the UN Central Emergency Fund (CERF), USD 400,000 from
Chevron Corporation and USD 31,500 from Denmark.

© IFRC 2008 - MMM0011