YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Other nations and relief organizations are moving to help Myanmar cope with floods that have caused 69 deaths and affected 260,000 people after more than a month of heavy monsoon rains and a cyclone.
The director of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Phyu Lei Lei Tun, confirmed the figures, and warned Wednesday that the Irrawaddy Delta, the country's rice bowl, was at critical risk of calamitous flooding that could destroy paddy fields and homes as water surges down rivers from badly inundated areas further north.
At a meeting in Malaysia with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — of which Myanmar is a member — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would soon announce a flood relief package after consulting with Myanmar officials on how it could best be utilized.
He said the U.S. Embassy has been coordinating with Myanmar's emergency operation center, and expressed hope that there would be minimal further loss of life and disruption.
The Chinese Embassy announced on its website that a 10-member Chinese rescue team arrived Tuesday in Yangon. It said the Blue Sky Rescue Team, which it described as China's biggest non-governmental humanitarian organization, was the first international rescue team to arrive on the scene, and would head to Rakhine state, one of four areas designated disaster zones last week by President Thein Sein.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced Tuesday in Geneva that it was surveying damage in Rakhine, where about 130,000 people displaced by several years of ethnic conflict live in poorly maintained and badly located camps. Rakhine, a coastal area, took the brunt of a cyclone late last week.
"So far teams comprising UNHCR, other U.N. and NGO staff have been able to reach camps for internally displaced people in Rakhine's provincial capital Sittwe, as well as in nearby townships such as Pauktaw and Myebon," the agency said in a statement. "In the 24 camps assessed so far, a quarter of the temporary shelters are damaged, and more than 21,000 displaced people affected as a result. Several years on from their construction, many of these shelters had become fragile and unable to withstand severe weather."
The private aid organization Doctors Without Borders said the situation was critical in several townships in Rakhine.
"Over 4,000 displaced people in Minbya are sheltering across 23 monasteries. Though immediate medical needs appear low, there is widespread damage to homes and infrastructure, and drinking water has been contaminated," it said in a statement.
Much attention has turned to the Irrawaddy Delta because of the threat from water rushing down from the north into the low-lying region, which in 2008 was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which took about 140,000 lives.
A local official contacted in Nyaungdon, a town on the Pan Hlaing River northwest of Yangon, said schools had been closed there. He said residents, especially children and the elderly, had been moved to higher ground because the river was rising, although the town has not yet flooded.