It’s feared that the death toll in Burma could rise as high as 100,000 with a further 1 million people left homeless in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. It’s still unclear how much warning the Burmese military junta gave to the people of Burma in advance of the storm. Reports have suggested that the danger was downplayed by Burmese state media ahead of the cyclone with higher priority being given in the press and on television to reporting about the forthcoming referendum.
The Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre had detected Cyclone Nargis in the Bay of Bengal on April 27th, 5 days before it struck land in Burma. The centre, set up following the 2004 tsunami, warned Burma that a cyclone was on its way. Warnings were also given by Indian meteorological authorities. According to local reports, most of the victims in Burma were claimed by the 12-foot high tidal surge that swept over the low-lying Irrawaddy region rather than the actual storm itself.
Whilst flights from some Western aid agencies have been delayed by the Burmese military junta, flights from Burma’s regional neighbours have been allowed in. The first Thai transport plane to arrive with aid had to be unloaded by hand in the absence of any fork lift trucks; a sign of the huge logistical problems aid agencies will have in getting help to where it is needed. As well as medical teams and experts, Thailand has agreed to send 30 tonnes of medical supplies and 12 tonnes of food and basic necessities.
Despite the low-standing the Burmese leadership has with much of the world, Thailand has a friendly relationship with its neighbour. Much of this is borne out of trade, with Thailand being one of Burma’s largest investors and trading partners and the largest importer of natural gas from Burma. Thailand and Burma are both part of the 10-member group, ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations) and ASEAN is also mobilising assistance to help in the relief effort.