Local Help for Myanmar Victims

Dr. Tin Myaing Thein
Dr. Tin Myaing Thein
Than Htut Aye
Than Htut Aye

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- It's a humanitarian crisis that's only getting worse. The survivors of Myanmar's deadly cyclone are now threatened by hunger and disease. And even though the world is ready to help, these victims may not receive it.

A top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar says the cyclone-related death toll could top 100,000. Despite the growing tragedy, only a few United Nations aid workers have been let in by the ruling military junta.

The situation is described as being increasingly horrendous with a risk of disease outbreaks. Saturday's cyclone slammed into the country with winds of up to 150 miles an hour.

Conditions are desperate. Hungry people are swarming the few open shops and fights have broken out over food and water. The United States has promised more than $3 million in disaster relief, but Myanmar's military rulers are blocking American aid.

A group in Honolulu has found a way around that. Since the Myanmar government is resisting aid mainly from the West, the Myanmar Association of Hawaii says it will send goods through its connections in Asia, as early as the next few days.

With disease on the verge of breaking out in Myanmar, time is critical.

"They're running out of water, clean water, they're running out of food, the children are the most vulnerable and so we need to get antibiotics in," said Dr. Tin Myaing Thein of the Myanmar Association of Hawaii

The association is racing against the clock to send food and supplies to the cyclone-stricken country before an outbreak plagues the nation. It's comfort for those who still haven't heard from their relatives in Myanmar.

"Most of the houses are very shallow, three to four feet above the ground would be blown away by the wind and even in Irrawaddy, many of the houses, the roofs are torn off so it is very terrifying to me," said Than Htut Aye of Honolulu, who has family living along the delta.

The association says it is working with the Aloha Medical Mission, a United Nations affiliate sending aid through a group of nuns in Taiwan to the country formerly known as Burma.

"Mostly cash because for us to be sending, it'll cost a lot in shipment from Honolulu to Burma, so we're trying to save that cost and get most of the items in Bangkok or Singapore," said Dr. Thein.

By channeling relief through connections in the East, the association is able to bypass Myanmar's resistance to aid from the West, a crucial move as more lives are on the line.

The Myanmar Association of Hawaii says it also has someone working with Thailand's Prime Minister to help bring aid to victims.

The group plans to send relief in three phases over the next two to three weeks.