Given the scope of the cyclone – according to the Burmese government, it killed 78,000 and left another 56,000 missing – aid groups say an influx of fresh relief workers is badly needed to bolster, or replace, overworked staff. An estimated 2.4 million people have been left homeless and without adequate food.
"We're trying to replace staff who've been in the delta the last three weeks," says James East, Bangkok-based spokesman for World Vision, which has 50 staff and 50 volunteers in the devastated area. "It's exhausting working in that environment. Seeing children killed by disasters is probably the highest stress point. It builds up over time. We need to care for our staff, as well as the survivors."
In a written account from Doctors Without Borders, a young doctor described the travails of helping victims in the delta area of Ngapudaw. She and 15 others spent the first week on a rain-soaked boat, showering in salty water, with only one cellphone to call family and friends for support. "Our team spirit was very good," the doctor wrote. "But at night it was very difficult to fall asleep. I kept thinking about the horrible stories I had heard and at times I felt very unsafe, because of the bad weather and the fear of another big storm."
She said her team would wake at 5 a.m., put on damp clothing, and have some instant noodles and coffee. Taking smaller boats, they would pass dead bodies and animals in the water.