[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/23/art.myanmar.aid2.jpg caption="People displaced by Cyclone Nargis by their tents in the Kyondah village, Myanmar"]
Editor's note: Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Scott McGill works for the organization and is currently helping with aid for the victims of Myanmar. He shares his experiences here:
Asia Regional HIV/AIDS Adviser
It was a very good day for two major reasons here in Yangon. A good day, despite it being nearly three weeks since Cyclone Nargis changed life forever for so many in this corner of Myanmar and despite the deadly secondary consequences accruing for over 2 million people as a second disaster begins to reveal itself.
The first reason is that finally help has arrived. I am not referring to the intermittent air shipments arriving on the single runway at Yangon’s Mingladon Airport over the past few days, bringing the most basic commodities for those struggling to survive in rapidly deteriorating conditions in the Irrawaddy Delta region. Although, of course, the food, tarpaulin, medical supplies, construction materials, water purifiers and, equally important, clothing arriving are almost literally manna from heaven.
Thunderstorms have continued to roll in over the Delta areas. Survivors — even where they have been fortunate enough to get hold of a piece of tarpaulin to fashion a shelter — are cold and wet. The ground is sodden, cold and damp. Too often survivors were left literally with the clothes they were running in as they frantically tried to escape to higher ground or climb a tree to somehow get above the near 25-foot storm surges and flash floods. Or to simply stand where they were, valiantly holding their children on shoulders or even above their heads for seven hours as the water lapped around adult necks and faces.
Some survivors have talked of their desperate shame in being left entirely naked by the force of the water tearing off their shirts, dresses and lungyi (a long skirt-like sarong almost universally worn by both men and women). Such public humiliation and nakedness for most Burmese would be a fate worse than death in terms of their culture norms. For children — warm, dry, adequate clothing as the country enters six months of monsoon is absolutely critical to their survival.
Over the last week, the help that finally arrived for us in our main office in Yangon has come in the shape of our expert Disaster Response Team, pulled from various parts of the world to assist those of us who have been doing the best we can with limited staff and quite limited experience — including me, climbing my own almost vertical disaster-response learning curve. These colleagues had been with us in spirit and had been supporting us by telephone and occasional e-mail contact (when the Internet sputtered back to life) – but had been frustratingly physically distanced from us as they worked to get visas. They are the experts, come to take up the reins from those of us previously unfamiliar with the mechanics and protocols of a response to a disaster of such size and scale. They have been a welcome invasion, sweeping into the office, rapidly setting up equipment, coolly making methodical assessments of the situation, setting up a makeshift but highly efficient disaster response centre. Specialists in child protection, education in emergency, nutrition, health and those staff who know exactly how to logistically get what we need in, to where it is needed and in what exact quantities. They are familiar with emergency situations and know precisely what to do.
Of course we were all extremely pleased to see them — the original team is beginning to get tired out, and the response we have been engaged in now needs to be carried out more systematically in order to massively scale up our response as well as keep it going it over the next 6, 12 and 24 months. Full recovery is clearly going to require such a sustained trajectory.
A couple of days afterwards, I took the first few hours off since Nargis hit. Simply going to the store, ducking into the barber’s chair and getting home before dark were treats I never imagined would mean so much. Ultimately many of us will be handing over our tasks to these specialist teams and going back to our original programs — knowing we did our very best and that the response is in safe hands and that even more people will be reached and given what they so urgently need.
Oh yes – I had a second reason for it being a good day. The electrical power came back to the house. Forgetting my “green” ambitions for a short while, I took great delight in flicking on as many lights as there were at hand and enjoying as hot and as long a shower as I could manage. Somehow it felt a lot like something close to normal had returned, and I felt a little lighter. And a lot cleaner too.
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