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May 12th, 2008
12:30 PM ET

Trying to get to Myanmar

By A. Chris Gajilan
CNN Senior Producer

Since last Monday, the Gupta team has been pushing hard to get into Myanmar. All the bags are packed and ready to go. Flashlights and headlamps – check. Water purification tablets – check. Malarone (an anti-malaria drug) and other meds – check. Camera batteries charged and ready to go – check. We’re on the balls of our feet, ready to spring forward, but we wait because the Myanmar government won't give us visas. As you probably know, we're not the only ones waiting.

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I’ve talked to dozens of people from organizations including UNICEF, World Vision, USAID, Doctors without Borders and the International Crisis Group. For all, this humanitarian crisis has been unique. So far, about half a million people have been reached with some sort of aid – whether that's a bag of rice or a sanitation kit. But more than 2 million people have been affected and are in need of assistance according to Joe Lowry of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Part of the problem is that the country has allowed only a trickle of humanitarian aid experts into the country. In some cases, they have allowed deliveries of goods but not the personnel normally sent to help distribute them effectively. One expert put it this way: "It’s like dropping a off a bunch of instruments and somehow expecting a symphony to be played without any training or organization."

Myanmar has been ruled by a military junta since the 1980s. Its leadership is not fully recognized by many nations including the United States government. In case you’ve been wondering, that's why some people, including the U.S. government, refer to the country as Burma – its official name before the military junta rule.

Now, it's been more than a week since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (by the way, these powerful tropical storms are called hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere and cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere). The few humanitarian experts on the ground say the situation is worsening by the day. We've heard preliminary reports of outbreaks of diarrheal disease, cholera and malaria. Without a doubt, it's a humanitarian crisis that’s hard to imagine in scope and scale, especially given the limited reporting from the country. So far, the United Nations estimates the death toll from Cyclone Nargis ranges from 63,000 to 100,000 with tens of thousands of people still missing. That’s staggering – especially compared with two other tragic disasters we've covered: the 2004 tsunami left 181,000 dead and Hurricane Katrina killed 1,836 in 2005. Even as a journalist who has seen these catastrophes – it's hard to wrap my head around such large numbers of people killed, affected or injured.

Crisis experts say the timeline for outbreaks is generally 10 days after a disaster. Tomorrow will be the tenth day. The Red Cross points out there is standing water everywhere and no sanitation to speak of – it's a combination that will lead to inevitable disease.

We're still working hard to get into the country. Have you been following news coverage on Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis? If and when we do report from Myanmar, what are you interested in seeing?

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Ratna, New York, NY

    It is extraordinary how these people have to suffer like animals, because of the millitary dictatorship. I am not sure what I would like to see that is new to me. Good luck with getting in and the reporting!

    May 12, 2008 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Lauren R., Wheeling, WV

    Hi Team Gupta,

    I guess the ruling junta there thinks it better to kill the poor off now than to feed them, later.

    What I would like to see, and I know this has to be happening, is a single snapshot of one soldier there who cares. I know there must be many who are devastated by the suffering, it's the ruler who doesn't care. I'd like to know if there are any efforts to bury their dead. I'm worried about disease. I'd like to know how the average person is doing, and the elderly and children. God, it kills me, to think of some little child trying to survive this without any parents. I'd also like to know if the terrible earthquake that just hit China affected that area any, and if the earthquake has affected the relief efforts any. And with all the problems affecting the relief, is it worth it, donating money? Would my money even ever get there in time to save lives, or would the junta steal that, too? Thank you, and please be safe.

    May 12, 2008 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Kim

    Thank you Dr. Gupta and the CNN for keeping Burma in the new. If you are not reporting no one in the world will know how bad it is and for Burmese like us who are living in US will not know eather. Please keep Burma in the news, from you people will see what's happening and there will be more presure on every one to do something. If you didn't show it on the new no one will ever know the death of thousand of people who are dead and more that are going to be dying because the people who are in athority are too stupid to do the right thing. Thank you for making sure that the dead are not silences and the living may get more help.

    May 13, 2008 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rene

    I have been to Myamar twice on a diplomatic passport. If Dr Gupta or Anderson Cooper can somehow convince the State Department to give them a Diplomatic passport, they can get in. I use to work for the State Dept. It will not be easy to get the black passport, but is not impossible. I believe getting you in will be a plus to the US Govts fight against the Junta if you can somehow get footage out of what is going on. The people there were some of the nices people I have ever met in all my travels and they deserve so much more then they are getting. I hope you can get in.

    May 13, 2008 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. kathie brown

    I would like to know what is being done for the orphans that must be there. who is caring for them now and the plan for the future?
    why do we continue to give money and food when we know the junta is keeping it all for themselves and not helping the people of Burma.
    If Dr Gupta would have the need to take nurses with him to help, I surely would volunteer to help in such a tragedy. keep up the good work.

    May 14, 2008 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Johanna

    I would also like to see how our donations are being used. Are they helping the victims or taken by the military in Burma? Of most importance to me, is how are people managing without the needed help of humanitarian groups abroad? And how can we put pressure on our government so that in turn they can pressure this militant gov't into doing the right thing before it's too late? Thank you.

    May 16, 2008 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Medicalist

    Let us know if your crew comes down with anything while there that is dangerous so we have a heads up over here in the States. Thanks!

    May 17, 2008 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.