Cyclone hits Myanmar. 2008

Cyclone Nargis hits Myanmar, 3 May 2008

Cyclone Nargis, with top winds of 190 km/hr, struck Myanmar (formerly Burma) on 3 May 2008. We understand that warnings of an approaching cyclone, with a possible storm surge, were available four days in advance, in a number of countries. The satellite image of 1 May 2008 clearly shows Cyclone Nargis. It crossed Haing Gyi Island in the Ayeyarwady River Delta (formerly Irrawaddy) and the country's largest city Yangon (the former capital Rangoon), then Pegu, Mon and Karen States. The more usual path of tropical cyclones across the Bay of Bengal is to strike land further north into Bangladesh. A storm of this magnitude may have never hit this region before.

A detailed map of the cyclone path (1 Mb download, 8 May 2008) is available at ReliefWeb.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC) points out that while technology allows cyclones to be 'seen' in terms of wind speed and rain potential, storm surges are much more difficult to predict. In the case of Cyclone Nargis, it seems that the 3.7 m high storm surge did more damage than the cyclone and may, in some areas of Myanmar, have been more deadly than the tsunami of 2004.

The official death toll now stands at 77,000, and is expected to rise, with two and a half million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Impact of the cyclone

There is a critical need for shelter materials, water purification tables, cooking sets, mosquito nets, emergency health kits and food. Precise figures on the extent of the disaster or on the affected population are still not available, and many areas of the delta have not been reached.

Three million people live in the Delta, with reliance on boat and canal transport. There has been severe damage to houses, boats and infrastructure. Mangroves and estuaries-critical fish spawning and nursery areas-were already under stress before the cyclone and are now threatened by pollution and sedimentation. The cyclone struck the main rice-growing area of Myanmar, which is traditionally a rice exporting country. Saltwater flooding of the delta will ruin future planting of rice for the foreseeable future. Rice prices, which had hit record highs in recent weeks, were bolstered again this week by worries that this cyclone could further tighten the world rice market.

The human dimension

A local account says that in the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) Delta,
there were only 200 people left in one village with a population at 4,000 before the cyclone. In the cyclone, people climbed up onto their roof tops to avoid flood waters, but they could not escape the following wave [storm surge] which swept them away along with their houses.
The following data are from ReliefWeb
  • Population in disaster-declared areas: approx. 24 million
  • In Yangon: approx. 6 million
  • Over 1 million expected to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
  • 31,938 dead
  • 29,770 missing
  • 90-95% of the buildings in 7 townships destroyed