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Australian aid worker describes situation in devastated Myanmar as 'overwhelming'

Wednesday May 14, 2008

The situation in Myanmar's cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta is 'overwhelming' according to Bridget Gardner, the International Red Cross aid worker who was the first international aid official to visit the disaster zone with official permission.

Ms Gardner returned to Yangon today following a two day assessment visit.

'The town of Labutta is unrecognisable,' she said. 'I have been there before and now, with the extent of the damage and the crowds of displaced people, it is a different place.'

According to Ms Gardner, communities are in desperate need of basic shelter, as well as access to clean water and first aid. 'Shelter is the issue here and all over the five locations we visited,' she said. 'In Laputta, there are more than 10,000 people without basic shelter and it has now started to rain heavily.'

In terms of first aid, Ms Gardner stressed the need for material support. 'During the cyclone, many people held onto trees to avoid being blown away. At the same time they were almost "sand blasted" by dirt and saltwater... (Many) lost the top layer of their skin and it's important that these injuries are treated before infections can set in.'

Ms Gardner also spoke about the remarkable efforts of Myanmar Red Cross volunteers, many of whom are working around the clock despite their own losses.

'I spoke to a volunteer in his fifties who was helping to pack family kits. He has lost everything and is now living in a hospital. But he still helps out in his local Red Cross chapter because he considers this his duty as a Red Cross volunteer.

'They (Red Cross volunteers) are true humanitarian heroes.'

Further aid continues to arrive in Yangon. Since Sunday, an additional five Red Cross flights carrying 25 tonnes of shelter materials and mosquito nets have been received. By Friday (16 May) an estimated total of 180 tonnes of Red Cross aid will have arrived in Myanmar.

Myanmar Red Cross has begun distributing rice in Yangon and more has already been sent to the delta area by road. Family kits for 10,000 people -- consisting of tarpaulins, pots, mosquito nets, water purification tablets and soap -- left yesterday for locations in Yangon and the delta.

To donate to the Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone Appeal:

  • Visit
  • Phone 1800 811 700
  • Send a cheque or money order to PO Box 2957, Melbourne, 8060
  • At any branch of the Commonwealth bank

Donations to the Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone Appeal will:

  • support the relief and recovery needs of households and communities affected by Cyclone Nargis, including clean water, emergency shelter and household items
  • send specialist aid workers to assist in the Red Cross response
  • assist Myanmar Red Cross in preparing and responding to this and future emergencies

Australian Red Cross will deduct no more than 10% of any donation for an international Appeal to cover its appeal costs. Should the funds raised exceed the amount required to meet the immediate and longer term needs of the people in the affected areas, Australian Red Cross will direct the excess funds to other emergency preparedness and response initiatives in the Asia Pacific region.