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The human face of Burma's death toll

  • 14 May 2008

Today I returned from one of the areas most affected by the cyclone. Nearly 30,000 people here met a watery grave. In Kyalatt, Phaypon, Bogala and the villages around, thousands perished.

Today Burma weeps and the tears of the innocent wound us. I have seen the suffering of the graceful people who live in these parts. When nature compounds their agony, the heart is torn with despair.

I went far off to Phyapon, down the Irrawady river. With bodies of human beings and cattle floating alongside the boat, we reached a destroyed village.

We were the first outsiders to reach the villagers. Cyclone Nargis bombed them, flattened them and left their spirit shaken.

In an assault of 'shock and awe', nature attacked the hapless men and women at night from the seas, the river and the air. Howling winds at shrieking velocity tore through settlements, like fighter bombers.

It is a sad sight. To my eyes — which have seen the effects of the Tsunami and the Kashmir earthquak — this is really overwhelming. Nature unleashed a storm of death and mayhem, wounding an already suffering people.

Yesterday, with tears in their eyes, women explained how the waves snatched their babes from their breasts. A mighty tidal wave became their grave. The mothers weep.

As our boat moved along, a body of a five-year-old boy drifted across our path. He is the child of a mourning mother somewhere. The boy drifts in unnamed waters, waiting for burial, unwept and unnamed.

People do not have drinking water and there is no food. Children bite at coconut shells. Decaying debris lies in the waterlogged terrain. Dead animals are spread out near the debris. The people have neither the energy nor the will to bury them. There are many refugees, living in roofless churches and monasteries. Help has not reached them.

We are doing what is possible in Burma. During the last two days we have been reaching out to the starving people. With the price of diesel skyrocketing and fuel not available, transport is still a problem. There is still no electricity or water even in Yangon.

Burma is in deep mourning. The count of the dead has passed 80,000 and is still rising. The majestic Irrawady was the mother to the people. It gave them food, was their waterway, winding through some of the most beautiful rice fields in the world. The delta had an alluring beauty before Irrawady yielded to