In May 2008, a very serve cyclonic storm1 named Nargis caused the national worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar. It killed almost 80,000 people and thousands of missed people were still missing in this catastrophic event1. The area of deep convection was established in the Bay of Bengal in the late May and then intensified rapidly into a serve cyclone with the action of warm water and upper-level tough1. This strong cyclone hit the coastal areas of Myanmar in May 2 and brought serious damage to those areas. In this essay, the major factor that contributed to such a high loss of life during the storm will be discussed first and then the factors of great damage after the storm. The essay will be concluded with some issues of choice of human being on the cyclones’ attack.
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First and foremost, the high surge wave brought by the cyclone Nargis is the most significant reason for the great damage during storm. The massive surge which is triggered by cyclone swept away everything like houses, roads and other infrastructure on its way in the inland area1. The 12 feet high wave swept away and inundated 50 % of house in low-lying area. At least 10,000 people in Bogalay, a town 50 miles southwest of Yangon had died because of the storm surge1.
The secondary effect is that the surge causes flooding in the low-lying area. The flood sea water ruins the agriculture area and other residential places. The high salinity of sea water damages the vegetation growth there. More importantly, the soil will become more salty in which it is not favorable for the planting of vegetation and thus affect the food supply in there. Flooding causes the blockage of road and this further break down the public transport network. People could not easily get through the flooded area and this caused inconvenient to the elderly. Moreover, the electricity power lines were damaged and no electricity will be resulted in the low-lying area for about six to seven days.
In addition, the satellite image of Myanmar would demonstrate the destructive damage brought by flooding. In figure 2, rivers and lakes are sharply observed as there is a boundary between them and both the vegetation and fallow agricultural area on April 15. The Irrawaddy River flows in the south direction and the Mouths of the Irrawaddy are formed by numerous distributaries 2. The deep blue green area near the shore is wetlands. Cyclone Nargis attacked directly the Mouths of the Irrawaddy and then moved to the northeast of coastline2. 20 days later, the coastal plain was flooded shown in figure 3. The agricultural areas have been totally destroyed. Most of the coastal areas were covered by sea water. Let’s have an example, Yangon with population over 4 million was almost completely flooded by sea water whereas several large cities with population from 100,000 to 500,000 experience large magnitude of flooding2. The flooding turns the coastal area of Yangon into muddy places.
NASA’s Terra satellite- Burma coast on April 15, 2008, before the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Nargis Credit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/nargis_floods.html
NASA’s Terra satellite- Burma coast on May 5, 2008, Tropical Cyclone Nargis causesvthe devastation of flooding. Credit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/nargis_floods.html
Also, the strong wind brought lots of damage to the Myanmar area. Cyclone Nargis is a strong Category 3 or minimal Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts of 150-160 mph3. The strong wind resulted in unimaginable damage to the environment. Since the area of Myanmar is very poor4, the house is usually made by thin woods only instead of concrete. As the storm brings strong wind to the coastal area, therefore, most of the houses were destroyed as they could not withstand the high speed wind. More importantly, the wind with brought all the debris and broken woods especially those from the houses along its track. This particularly endangers the lives on that area as the high speed flowing woods would kill the lives in a few seconds. The human lives as well as properties were destroyed in large scale under the influence of strong wind.
Aya, near the Ayeyarwady estuary in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis caused significant land loss and coastal erosion. Top left hand side of figure is the golden Buddhist stupa, which was originally placed on dry land. (Credit: Hermann Fritz)
Last but at least, the mudflow is one of the factors causing large amount of death in Myanmar5. The heavy rainfall brought by the cyclones made the muddy area saturated with water and thus the pressure will be built up on the mud surface. When the combination of water pressure and gravity of the mud is larger than the resisting force, the high speed mudflow will occur. The mudflow which contains large amount of suspended particles and silt rushed into the coastal area and the residents of low-lying rice fields were simply swept away in Maynmar4. It is estimated the death has been put at 140,000 or more. People died of crash with the broken woods in mudflow, swept away or suffocation4. Even worse, the mud flew on the coastal area made the excavation of the buried people more difficult. The mud blocked the transport network in which the disaster management rather uneasy.
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Then, the factors of great damage after the storm will be discussed. The international relief is blocked by the military government is a major reason for the great destruction of lives and properties6. Many disaster assessment officials had to wait for few days visa in order to enter Myanmar6. This further hindered the relief work as the international relief teams and private charity groups were not allowed to have fully assessed. Since the disaster could be fully assessed, teams cannot estimate the amount of relief stuff and other supplies required. Moreover, as mentioned before, Myanmar is a poor country which does not have enough relief technology to help the buried people get out of the mud flow. The military government initially blocked the international relief so that the relief team cannot enter the affected areas. This delayed the time of the arrival of foreign relief teams and most of them arrive there after three days of the event. However, the survival time limit of human being buried in debris or even mud is only forty-eight hours and this increase the number of death. Actually, when the teams arrived, they could only do little as the golden period had passed through6.
The International Federation is stepping up its efforts to get food and water to those most affected by cyclone Nargis.
In addition, assess is a challenge for the rescued members to overcome. The United Nation estimated that there is 1.4 million of those remain survived need food, clean water, medicine and shelter7. However, most of the flooded area cannot be entered by trucks. Instead, the helicopters are required to transport those relief materials. The situation worsened because the Myanmar government is so poor to have enough helicopters. Moreover, it took time in sending the helicopters from other countries. The officers allowed the first of ten helicopters from the World Food Program to carry food and water supplies from Yangon into the delta after a 10-day delay. The other nine were en route to Myanmar6. Some people died because of starvation as the supplies can be entered into the impact area after ten days delay.
Besides, the tidal surge drove inland from the sea caused secondary damage to the citied of Myanmar8. Three quarters of the livestock were killed and almost half the fishing fleets were sunk. Also, a million acres of rice paddies were salted by the seawater surges8. This flooding of seawater cut the local food supply and inundated the low-lying area. Water pipes and electricity power lines were destroyed so people had to experience four days without electricity and clean water. Even worse, the flooded areas remained flooded for a week and the water is contaminated by the dead bodies in the sea water. ‘There was clear lack of sanitation facilities for the 500 people.’ said by an officer from red cross9. People had no choices but need to drink the polluted water in order to survive. This leads to the spread of water-borne diseases like cyclosporiasis and amoebiasis. Reports of digestive tract disorders and malaria were heard and one in five people was reported sick9. But the lack of transport results in a shortage of medicine. When people got sick because of drinking unclean water, they would probably become worsen. And this causes a viscous cycle.
Cyclonic storm1 named Nargis was the national worst natural disaster on the history of Myanmar. Both the natural and human factors made it become the strongest cyclone which causes lot of death and damages. Natural factors like high surge wave, mudflow and flooding reconstruct the lying-area of Myanmar. Human factors like poor preparation for the cyclone and delay of the relief teams further worsened the situation and increase the number of the death. The coastal low-lying area of Myanmar had fertile soil and favors agriculture10. However, all the agriculture areas are inundated by flood water by a storm and the farmers lost all their farming products in three hours10. The power of nature can be modified by human being. And this can be seen in the example of cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar. People have to earn money so they chose to stay there through devastating damages. Hong Kong, a city is located in Asia, was always sheltered. We cannot imagine what will happen if this typhoon attack us. We often hoped that the typhoons can attack Hong Kong directly so that there will be no working or school days. Hong Kong is a safe place that no one can remember the fearless of typhoon. Should we change our attitude on that and know more about the other part of world?
This woman is struggling to recover. All the small change she earns from the sale of vegetables is needed for daily survival. Credits: http://www.ifrc.org/Docs/News/08/08071501/index.asp
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