Myanmar Rescuers: No Sign of '2nd Wave' Deaths

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Myanmar's military government is allowing international aid workers into the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis. Medical workers say there is no evidence so far of a feared "second wave" of deaths resulting from malnutrition and disease.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The government of Myanmar is making good on its promise to allow in international aid workers nearly four weeks after that country was devastated by a cyclone. Food, water and relief supplies are now being distributed by the local staff of some foreign aid agencies. And medical workers say there's no evidence so far of something that was feared - a second wave of deaths from malnutrition and disease.

NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao joined us from Bangkok, where many of the foreign experts have been waiting weeks for visas. And, Doualy, is the Myanmar embassy there finally processing these visa applications?

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: From aid workers that I've been talking to today, yes. But keep in mind we're talking about three to five visas at a time. Not a whole lot, but certainly better than none. A lot of these workers have been waiting since day one to get these visas. So this is encouraging news.

Some of the disaster response team members I spoke to are carrying passports from countries such as Kenya, Australia, or the UK. I spoke to one rapid response team staff, Chris Webster, with the Christian aid group World Vision, and he was very excited that he had just gotten his visa. But flights going into Yangon were full this afternoon. He's likely to get on a flight tomorrow with two other foreign workers who also got their visas. He told me he was relieved that finally some of his team could go to support the Burmese staff already on the ground and show them that the world has not forgotten about them.

MONTAGNE: What are these disaster specialists - and I think that's an important word, because there are people who really know what to do in disasters waiting to get in - what are they going to add to the expertise that is already there in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, for example, a spokesman for the International Red Cross-Red Crescent told me that they need water specialists who can help mobilize teams into the worst affected areas. The immediate need is still water and shelter. And remember that a lot of villages can only be reached by boat. Even helicopters sometimes can't find anyplace dry to land on in the Irrawaddy Delta to help the survivors.

There's also a need for medical specialists, people who can help evaluate the psychosocial trauma following a disaster of this magnitude. Paul Risley, with the U.N. World Food Programme, said allowing foreign aid workers is critical to their operation.

Mr. PAUL RISLEY (U.N. World Food Programme): This access is especially important for the World Food Programme, because in order to ramp up our ability to deliver food in the delta areas, we need those veteran, experienced international workers. We have a food hub up and running in Labutta. We need to create the same in at least three other areas - in Pyapon, in Bogale, and in Maubin.

XAYKAOTHAO: The areas Risley names are all filled with cyclone survivors crowded together in schools, monasteries or open-air structures.

MONTAGNE: And you've been talking, I gather, to a lot of people there who've traveled to the areas most devastated by this cyclone. What are they telling you?

XAYKAOTHAO: Well, I'm learning that Burmese people are very resilient. Because they already lived in difficult situations under the military junta, many are coping better than what some had expected.

I spoke earlier to a logistics coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, a man named Tan Yu Wan(ph) - a Chinese national. He's been in Labutta for 10 days and said he hasn't had much sleep, but he's been changed by people he's worked with and helped. And Anupama Rao Singh, with the United Nations Children's Fund, just returned from a four-day visit to Myanmar. She said that by no means is the need for relief over.

Ms. ANUPAMA RAO SINGH (UNICEF Regional Director): Given the scale of the devastation and given the problems that still exist on the ground in terms of access, I cannot see that we would in any case be able to say that the requirement for humanitarian relief is going to end in the coming weeks or months.

XAYKAOTHAO: Singh was in Aceh right after the 2004 tsunami. And she says what she saw then was unprecedented, but flying over the Irrawaddy Delta it was much worse.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

XAYKAOTHAO: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking with NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao in Bangkok about ongoing efforts to provide relief supplies to the victims of the cyclone that hit Myanmar earlier this month.

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