I was born and raised in Burma. On the day Cyclone Nargis made landfall, May 2, 2008, I was studying for my GCE O Level examination from London, England. The cyclone would leave 84,500 people dead in its wake and up to 53,800 people missing. According to United Nations’ estimates, 2.4 million people were affected. With a storm surge of between 3.5 and 7 meters high careening towards Myanmar at wind speeds of up to 194 kph, (120 mph), the cyclone has been rated as one of the deadliest in the North Indian Ocean Basin. The cyclone went inland to devastate and rearrange 35 kilometers of Burma topography.
Climate change has made cyclones and hurricanes stronger and more deadly. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) “Greenhouse gases are warming the upper atmosphere and the ocean.” NOAA also notes that rising sea surface temperatures fuel the intensity and destructiveness of tropical storms.
Cyclone Nargis saw some 115 townships along the coastal delta region devastated. The Burma Red Cross Society, supported by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, immediately stepping in to assist thousands of people in those townships. However, helping victims and survivors of the cyclone was an act of opposition against the Burmese military government because they refused to accept any outside aid, and actively persecuted anyone that attempted to help the victims of the cyclone’s effects or to speak about the extent of the damage. As the military government failed to warn the inhabitants of the area and failed to evacuate the areas where the cyclone was expected to hit hardest.
The support came in form of relief distributions, emergency shelter, livelihoods, community-based health and first aid, psychosocial support, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion and disaster preparedness and risk reduction. Over a hundred thousand lives were lost, and nearly a million people left homeless. In the days and weeks after the cyclone, the military regime refused to accept any international aid and even punished Burmese for their attempts to bring supplies and provide relief to the survivors. I was one of them who got being punished by the military government. After we received news of how badly the victims needed assistance, I helped with the relief effort by collection donated items among my district and arranging for volunteers to drive the donations into the affected areas.
Since Cyclone Nargis there have been many reports and studies that support the fact that cyclones are getting much stronger than they used to be and because global warming is contributing to rising sea levels, there will be more intense flooding during hurricanes and cyclones.