Parts of lush Irrawaddy coastline blown off the map

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2008, 12:00am

Entire chunks of Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta coastline have disappeared from the map - not just inundated by floodwaters but washed into the sea by the destructive force of Cyclone Nargis.

Local Myanmese aid workers are now reaching the most isolated parts of the area known as the 'Mouths of the Irrawaddy', low-lying beachheads stretching into the Indian Ocean, only to discover coastal fringes entirely washed away.

'The maps of Myanmar will have to be redrawn,' one aid worker said. 'It is not just flooding. We are talking about whole areas of coastline washed away by the storm surge.'

The coast contained some of the most densely populated areas of the delta, home to fishing ports, shrimp paste factories and rice paddies.

'The area is like great fingers of land reaching into the sea ... it is like the tips of the fingers have gone, and the people have gone as well,' the aid worker said.

The cyclone packed winds of 190km/h, sending a 3.5 metre wave 40km into the delta.

Monsoon rains are due to start later this month, raising the prospect of further flooding in areas now already inundated with brackish water. Satellite photographs confirm extensive flooding a week after the storm hit.

The delta is home to an estimated 13 million of Myanmar's 57 million people, despite covering just 5 per cent of the land mass. It produces enough rice for the needs of Myanmar - one of the world's poorest countries - and for export.

Save The Children, World Vision and Oxfam all now have hundreds of local staff in the delta area, travelling mostly by boat to get food aid and emergency shelters to the few survivors in the area. Their foreign staff remain restricted to Yangon.