MYANMAR: Earthquake assessments face access hurdles
Assessments on-going to get a more complete picture of this disaster
BANGKOK, 29 March 2011 (IRIN) - Four days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Myanmar's eastern Shan State, information about the true scale of the disaster has been slow to emerge given the region's mountainous terrain, linguistic barriers and security concerns, an aid agency with dozens of volunteer surveyors in affected areas, said.
"Getting accurate data is quite slow," said Bernd Schell, head of delegation at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN from Myanmar's economic capital, Yangon.
About 32 IFRC volunteers are participating in six multi-agency survey teams, including UN agencies, local and international NGOs, which are fanned out in affected townships more than 1,300km northeast of Yangon.
Schell said he did not expect damage to be "dramatically higher" than what has thus far been reported by the government - at least 70 fatalities and hundreds of destroyed homes. But the situation is still not clear, he added.
"You have the physical access problems - it is a mountainous area and going to certain villages is a challenge - and these are not conflict-free zones. Security issues mean all movement must be cleared [by authorities]... Security issues affect [our ability] to get a comprehensive assessment."
In addition, surveyors are required to speak local languages, he added.
Shan State is home to several ethnic armies. While the government has signed ceasefire agreements with the biggest groups, pockets remain outside government control and fighters are heavily armed
, according to analysts.
Myanmar lies on one of the two main earthquake belts, known as the Alpide Belt
, which starts from the northern Mediterranean in the west and extends east through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Himalayas, Myanmar and Indonesia.
The 24 March earthquake is the third to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year. According to OCHA
, no damage or casualties were reported from the first two, measuring 6.4 and 5.4 magnitude on 11 February and 10 March this year.
At least 18 large earthquakes have occurred in Myanmar's Central Lowland region near the Sagaing Fault
that passes through the country.
Because Nay Pyi Taw, the recently established capital of Myanmar, is located on this fault, its population of close to one million is exposed to a significant earthquake hazard, according to a January 2011 geophysical study