Joe Wilkey, (C), of Warsaw, interviews survivors of the cyclone that hit Myanmar on May 3. Photo Provided
Joe Wilkey, (C), of Warsaw, interviews survivors of the cyclone that hit Myanmar on May 3. Photo Provided
Joe Wilkey, executive director of World Compassion Network, a Warsaw-based relief organization, recently returned from Myanmar (Burma).

Wilkey said, more than a month after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta region in the south of the country, the situation there is still dire with thousands of people still missing and thousands more displaced. The death toll from the storm is estimated to exceed 100,000.
One of the challenges relief agencies have faced in helping those affected by the cyclone has been the reluctance of Myanmar's ruling military junta to grant foreign workers access to the disaster area. According to the Associated Press Tuesday, the junta loosened some of its restrictions to allow experts from the United Nations, and from other Southeast Asian countries, to accompany Myanmar government officials on a tour of the delta area to assess relief needs.

Wilkey said, from what he saw while he was in Myanmar, the junta is still keeping tight control over the distribution of help to cyclone survivors.

"Even though the news reports say the junta is letting in international workers, there is little evidence of them actually being allowed to help," said Wilkey. "One [non-government organization] reported to me that they have asked for 100 visas and have been given 12, and only three of the 12 have been allowed to the restricted areas."

Wilkey received his visa to enter Myanmar on May 30 after days of working with contacts in Southeast Asia to find a way in. He took a suitcase of antibiotics and other medications and money to buy supplies needed to help in the relief effort.

Wilkey said he was met at the airport in Yangon by a group of Burmese pastors and doctors who have been traveling to the delta area every three days to provide relief.

"After discussions about how best to deliver the supplies to the delta, it was determined that I should travel as far as I was allowed and then depend on the local contacts to take the medicines to the victims," Wilkey said. "I was able to disguise myself enough to get through two checkpoints, but decided that my presence placed my host in too much danger."

The government has arrested some Burmese for working unofficially with foreigners to aid cyclone victims. Wilkey said he did not want to draw the attention of the government toward his hosts.

Wilkey said the doctors he talked to told him the medicines he brought were greatly needed. With the combination of thousands of homeless families, large amounts of contaminated, standing water and lack of medical resources, disease has become widespread.

Wilkey also delivered rice, clothes, shoes and mosquito nets to several displaced people near Yangon, Myanmar's commercial center.

"Many people wanted to tell their miraculous stories of survival," Wilkey said.

He said he interviewed Gusa, the father of four children, who decided to take his son to warn friends about five miles from his home the day the storm hit.

"When he arrived, the storm was already upon them," Wilkey said. "He went inside a church to help everyone hang on to anything to keep from being swept away. The winds collapsed the walls and the water began to rise."

Wilkey said Gusa and his son climbed a tree to stay above the rising water.

"The water came all the way up to his neck, and finally, after hanging on all night, the water began to recede," Wilkey said.

Hundreds of people in the village died that night. After the storm passed, Gusa helped survivors find family members.

Wilkey said cleanup and recovery from the storm is still moving slowly.

"The team members traveling to the remote areas are still reporting finding bloated bodies everywhere," he said. "There is much sickness and emotional trauma."

Clean water, new homes, food and clothing top the list of cyclone victims' physical needs.

World Compassion Network has arranged a channel through which to send funds to help the cyclone victims. Visit www.w-c-n.org to donate online or send donations to World Compassion Network, P.O. Box 1152, Warsaw, IN 46581 and indicate "Myanmar relief."