Junta: Myanmar cyclone claimed 1,250,194 chickens, 136,804 buffaloes

Other News Materials 24 May 2008 12:53 (UTC +04:00)

Cyclone Nargis killed 1,250,194 chickens and 136,804 water buffaloes and 10.7 billion dollars in rehabilitation work will be required, such as building embankments around villages in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta, an aid agency revealed Saturday, reported dpa.

Those were some of the somewhat "bizarre" statistics revealed at a government presentation held in Yangon on Thursday for 200 foreign delegations invited to help the ruling regime amass aid on Sunday for disaster relief and rehabilitation of areas hard hit by the cyclone which swept over the country's central coast on May 2-3, said Penny Lawrence, international director for Oxfam, who attended the conference.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre message of the presentation, chaired by Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein, was that, according to Myanmar's military rulers, the relief phase of Cyclone Nargis is over.

"The presentation they gave demonstrated through their statistics that they've now finished the relief phase, that all food, water and shelter needs have been met by the government and they were now into the recovery phase," said Lawrence.

This is in stark contrast to the international aid community's outlook on the situation in Myanmar, a good three weeks after the cyclone hit.

"The United Nations is very clear that we are still in the emergency phase, and the emergency phase will last for some time yet," said Richard Horesey, spokesman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Myanmar, a country that has been living under military dictatorships for the past 46 years, experienced its worst natural disaster in the country's history this month.

Cyclone Nargis, packing 200-kilometres-per-hour winds, swept across the Irrawaddy delta region, the country's tradition rice bowl, flattening trees and houses and causing tidal waves that claimed at least 133,000 people listed as dead or missing.

The cyclone also laid bare the political time-warp Myanmar has lived under for decades, reminiscent of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe.

At first the government downplayed the death toll as being in the thousands, when the UN was estimating well over 100,000. Then it welcomed international aid, but put restrictions on flight deliveries and insisted on distributing the aid itself.

And much to the outrage of the international aid community, it has restricted the number of foreign aid experts allowed into the country. It is estimated that 2.4 million people were affected by the cyclone.

On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks with Muanmar junta chief Senior General Than Shwe in which he reportedly agreed to allow in "all" aid workers to the cyclone-hit areas.

The foreign aid community has remained skeptical.

"The headlines look great, and are really encouraging, but what are the details," said Lawrence.

Those details will hopefully be made clear at a UN-ASEAN pledging conference being held in Yangon on Sunday.

At the conference, to be co-chaired by OCHA secretary general John Holmes and ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will announce a "mechanism" by which it proposes to speed up the delivery of aid to the cyclone victims, despite the Myanmar government's odd-ball ways.

It is hoped that the Myanmar government will acknowledge on Sunday that they still have an emergency on their hands.

"If that doesn't happen we are in trouble," said Horsey.

Much will depend on ASEAN. Observers have described the "ASEAN mechanism" as a "face-saving badge" for Myanmar's military.

"The face-saving formula is that ASEAN will coordinate the natural relief effort," said one UN official. "But clearly ASEAN doesn't have the capability to provide the technical expertise so we need international aid workers in the delta."

Whether Myanmar allows an influx of foreign aid workers, as Than Shwe has indicated, with access to the hardest hit cyclone areas, will determine if the conference in a success.

"This is really make or break for ASEAN," said Sarah Ireland, the regional director for Oxfam.