Here is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the cyclone in Burma.

BURMA: International assistance needed now, especially from Asia

The physical damage caused by Cyclone Nargis, which swept through Burma this May 2 and 3 is clearly enormous. In addition to the at least 350 dead and uncounted numbers of injured, hundred-year-old trees have been uprooted, powerlines brought down everywhere, billboards collapsed, and houses demolished. According to government reports, at least 20,000 homes housing 100,000 people have been destroyed. These numbers are likely to vastly underestimate the scale of the damage. In a city with few sturdy concrete structures outside the city centre, there are reports that in the new towns and satellite suburbs of Rangoon occupied by the poorest workers and their families, there is very little left fit for human habitation. The electricity and water supplies, which were never good, have stopped completely. People are queuing to buy water from tankers being run by the fire brigade.

So far, there are even fewer reports coming from the Irrawaddy region to the west, and Pegu and Karen and Mon States to the east, which have together with Rangoon been declared disaster areas. It is likely that people in these regions have also suffered heavy losses and that the death toll too will rise in coming days, especially in the delta where the cyclone reached land: at least two-thirds of the dead are believed to have been in Irrawaddy Division, a third from one island that bore the brunt of the storm as it swept in from the Bay of Bengal.

The conditions will rapidly get worse and international assistance is needed now. The cyclone comes on the back of a very hard period of Burma’s impoverished millions, following the fuel price hikes of last August and galloping inflation of basic commodity prices, as well as a further depressed domestic economy affected by these conditions and the rising costs of food globally. Already there are reports that the cost of items like fish paste, oil, rice and eggs have doubled and in some areas tripled. The absence of affordable food and clean water compounding the already hard lives that people had been living could cause a tragedy of unprecedented scale in the affected regions. The risk of disease is also high.

The international community should not wait for the government of Burma to make a request for help. It has virtually no specialised disaster personnel or equipment and quite simply not even a fraction of the money, materials and people needed to respond.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the concerned United Nations agencies, which are meeting to coordinate a response, and governments around the world, to offer specific assistance –financial and material, and including where possible the sending skilled persons to assist in the recovery effort — without any delay. At this juncture, speed, not diplomatic niceties, is of the utmost importance.

Burma’s neighbours especially should play a special role at this time. It should not be left to international agencies to coordinate assistance, and traditional donors to offer money. China and India both have enormous resources and skills that they should make available without delay. Other Asian countries that have had lucrative businesses operating out of Burma for years, including Singapore and South Korea, must at this time consider how they can return some of their earnings to support the country in the aftermath of the cyclone.

Among the ASEAN countries, there are a number with considerable experience in dealing with cyclones that should promptly make offers to send people and materials to help. And Thailand too has a large number of highly-skilled persons with experience in dealing with the 2004 tsunami only one hour by plane from Rangoon. Coming on the back of a visit by Burma’s prime minister to Bangkok, its government should not tarry in making specific offers of tangible support, as indeed could large rescue foundations and others based there and in other nearby countries, such as Malaysia, which have equipment and people that are desperately needed in Burma today.