Monday, May 5, 2008

Death toll estimates from Burma cyclone

What makes this cyclone different from recent disasters like the tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, or even the cyclone that hit Bangladesh some years ago? The CTV article cited in the previous post provides a clue:
Chris Kaye, the UN's acting humanitarian co-ordinator, said Sunday that thousands of homes have been destroyed, with the low-lying Irrawaddy delta being hit the hardest.

"The Irrawaddy delta was hit extremely hard not only because of the wind and rain but because of the storm surge," he said from Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon. "The villages there have reportedly been completely flattened."
What can be said about the Irawaddy Delta? "With a total population of about 3.5 million people and a population density of 100 per, the Irrawaddy Delta is one of the most densely populated parts in the country."*

The death toll is certainly much higher than the 3o0-400 deaths now being reported. The only question: how much higher?

Publication of reliable death toll statistics by Burma's junta or accurate reports of the magnitude of the devastation will surly result in the outside world exerting strong pressure that the Myanmar junta allow foreign aid and assistance. Myanmar knows this. Burma has prevented foreign aid groups including the UN's World Food Program from operating freely in the country in recent years. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the Myanmar regime will seek to obscure the true extent of the devastation from Cyclone Nagris.

There is reason to suspect that casualties from this cyclone may number in the tens of thousands. It is certain that unless aid and relief reach Burma quickly, the number of casualties will climb. The situation represents a dire emergency.

There is reason to believe that the estimates of the Myanmar regime concerning the scope of this natural disaster will not be trustworthy. That's what makes this disaster different from other recent catastrophes in Asia.
* ASEAN regional center for biodiversity

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