Israeli aid groups fight to help Myanmar victims

Unauthorized accounts estimate the death toll at 200,000 with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million injured.

myanmar 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
myanmar 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar escalates, the junta government continues to restrict the many aid groups hoping to provide its citizens with needed supplies. An official from the nonprofit organization IsraAid described the situation on Sunday as "desperate" with an extreme need for more support. "The main issue is that the Burmese government is not allowing more relief workers," the official said. "We have people in the field currently, but they are restricted to where they are allowed to work." Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian country last week, devastating the Irrawaddy Delta and leaving the area's inhabitants homeless and hungry. Unauthorized accounts estimate the death toll at 200,000 with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million injured. As of Sunday afternoon, eight IsraAid workers were in Myanmar. Two relief experts from the humanitarian aid organization Latet were on the ground as well, with an additional five members expected to join them later in the week. The relief teams are assisting villages in the delta area by distributing water and food wherever they can, in addition to helping the distraught villagers cross the river to the safety zone. One team from IsraAid has been able to advance further into the damaged area. "It is very frustrating," said the IsraAid source. "There is so much destruction and chaos, so many dead bodies. Not only is our medical team not allowed to enter the damaged area, but our relief team is only being allowed to reach the surface of the delta area." IsraAid's medical team is waiting for a call to find out where they are needed and where they are allowed to go. Foreign Ministry representative Lior Hayat reported that Israel would aid two NGOs, Latet and IsraAid, in giving assistance to the people of Myanmar. The government has pledged $100,000 in medicinal supplies and other financial aid. "We have provided the teams with visas and essential medical supplies to help the Myanmar people in this desperate situation," said Hayat. Evan Weintrob, the executive director of Latet, said access to visas had enabled his small team to enter the region early. Since then, reports from the field have only gotten worse, he said. "The cyclone is going to be like the tsunami [of 2004] with the amount of people affected," Weintrob said. "They estimate it will take years to rehabilitate the region." According to a recent United Nations assessment, the need for food will most likely exceed 55,000 tons, with overall necessary aid estimated at $160 million. Latet has coordinated its cargo shipments with El Al, and continues to solicit support from other corporations in its relief efforts. In greatest demand are water and shelter equipment, followed by tents, blankets, mosquito nets and basic clothing. "The people there lost everything," said Weintrob. "We hear from the director of the project that it is a very bad situation." To donate to Latet's Myanmar Crisis Fund, call 1-700-504-033.