Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Untold Story of Burma’s Relief Effort

June 7th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Cyclone_Survivor__web_.JPGBurma’s state-run media has strongly condemned media reports of the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis.

An article in a state daily accused “self-seekers” of faking video footage of the destruction - and foreign media of using it to harm Burma’s image.

Reports that survivors were living in dire conditions in the Irrawaddy Delta were exaggerated, it said.

The reality our Correspondent King Kong Janoi has seen and heard is very different.

Victims re-build their huts destroyed by the cyclone in Your Thit village in the Irrawaddy delta. The roofs are made with coconut leafs.

Ma Mya Aye, who is seven months pregnant, worries about what will happen when the rainy season, comes. However, there are no other materials to work with.

She recalls the horror of the cyclone.

“People were floating everywhere. I grabbed a piece of wood to keep me a float; it was an uprooted coconut tree. It was hard to hold on to the wood so I grabbed the leaves. The waves were hitting me really hard over and over again really. It must have been hard for my baby inside. The rain also strung my skin.”

She had no dry clothes to wear after the cyclone. She waited in wet clothes for help with fellow villages who managed to survive.

Only two people were taken by relief boat to the provincial capital Labutta, the rest made the journey on foot.

Ma Mya Ayes group wait for two days for help before walking to find relief.

“I could not eat or drink. We just had coconuts to eat but I was too exhausted to eat. My body was bruised from the waves. On the fourth day, we decide to go to Pyit Sa Lu village and then on to Labutta to seek help. It normally is a two hour journey but it took as a day because we moved very slowly.”

Relief supplies are now slowly trickling down to communities in the worst hit areas, but the ruling generals - notoriously suspicious of the West - are wary of what is coming in.

Survivors like Ma Mya Ayes are surviving off relief from private local donors.

Thousands of victims push and shove as rice is handed out in relief camps in Labutta.

A message over a loud speaker calls for calm and order.

Ma Mya Aye is too weak to join the crowd so she goes with out food.

“I can’t jostle with them. A donor comes to distribute rice soup but they do not hand out bowls, I don’t have a bowl so I couldn’t have soup. The next day there was about three hundred people in the queue so it would take half a day to get rice. I can’t stand in the sun for that long. I only drink water but I was not hungry because I was thinking about my lost husband. I don’t know whether he is dead or alive.”

Despite being pregnant and injured by the cyclone, she has received no medical assistance.

She worries about her baby.

“After the disaster I have not felt my baby move in my womb. Strong trees hit me.”

Two weeks after the disaster a local donor brought her to Rangoon. She is now sheltering in a monastery.

“I am alive because of that person. Here monks give us food to eat. They even gave us slippers for our feet.”

While more foreign aid workers are now being allowed into Burma, they are finding it difficult to gain access to some of the hardest-hit areas - where villagers say they have received little or no government help.

What they are finding instead is that many people are still without clean water and at risk of disease.

Médecins Sans Frontières is warning that with the onslaught of the monsoon rains survivors risk getting infections.

Ma Mya Aye who has lost her entire family doesn’t know what her future holds.

“I have to carry on my life alone but I don’t know how. It would have been easier if I wasn’t pregnant. I don’t have anyone to lend on. My brothers and sisters died and I can’t find my husband. I have one sister living in Huin Kyi but that area also serious affected disaster so I have not been able to find her.”

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Burma Junta Arrests Local Aid Workers for Handing out Food

May 31st, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Pro_Democracy__web_.JPGFirst to Burma, Where the military junta has finally approved all pending visas for UN staff more than three weeks after Cyclone Nargis.

More foreign relief workers from other groups are also being permitted to enter the Irrawaddy Delta.

The UN estimates that more than two million people still need aid.

And as our correspondent King Kong Janoi reveals local relief workers are being arrested by the military for handing out aid.

Cyclone Victims queue for rice in Twin Tay Township, Rangoon Division.

Some yell ‘come and help us!”

This private aid hand out is far from enough to feed their families.

A Pro-democracy activist who was involved in the September uprising says this shows the military doesn’t care about their people only power.

Private businesses in Rangoon and local groups are providing the majority of aid to the victims.

“We find food for the victims to keep them alive. We collect money from friends and neighbors and then give it to the victims who are living in remote areas where no government aid has reached, they are hungry and we try to feed them.”

There are many kinds of private activist groups working in the Cyclone affected areas - musicians, pro democracy activists and Buddhist monks.

Sayadaw Ashin Nyarnittara chants prays for the dead.

He has been travel across the country giving faith to the victims. He has also traveled overseas to Thailand and Singapore where he described to the exile Burmese community the situation in the cyclone affected areas.

He is raising re-construction fund this way.

“In Bogalay Township, we have turned 50 temples into relief centers. However many of the monasteries don’t have roofs, so we are trying to get supplies to fix that. We are also focusing on fixing the hospital roof and getting medical equipment so the doctors can work.”

It’s this kind of informal aid that is keeping people alive.

The government embarrassed by their actions is cracking down on this private aid groups.

Monks claim the authorities have asked them to hand over the aid to them, so it looks like its coming from the military.

There are even reports of local donors being arrested.

Local donors claim that on the 25th of May 70 donors trucks were stop and their drivers arrested for distributing rice to victims, in the Yangon division.

The authorities detained local aid worker Ko Soe Bay for one night.

“I am so angry about that but it has made me stronger. When we see people struggle with no food or clothes we know we must go on. We will continue our work even if they try to stop us. We are young so can face whatever.”

The UN says that up to 2.4 million Burmese need emergency assistance and has begun raising 200 million dollars for a six-month relief program.

Nearly 80,000 people are said to have died; 56,000 are counted as missing.

Despite the scale of the disaster, the government has focused on the constitutional referendum.

Even in refugee camps, they told victims to vote and how to vote.

Ko Myo Htwe explains what happened on the 24th of May.

“The authorities came just to get a list of all the people here, we can not vote by ourselves. I asked if I could make my vote independently and they said. We would vote NO and that’s not acceptable so they voted YES for us.”

The first round of voting for the cyclone took place on May the 10th in regions spared by the storm.

The state media said the constitution was approved by 92 percent, with a 98 percent turnout.

Activist say the referendum is a line and the international community has condemned the process as a sham.

But right now pro-democracy activist are too busy helping cyclone victims to fight back politically.

“We will continue to fight to achieve our goal. What we are doing we truly believe in so nothing can stand in our way. If they think we believe that the people approve their constitution then they are fools. The youth movement is working underground in the same way as before.”

This activist makes it clear that young people like him are not scared of staging another uprising against the military government.

Burma Cyclone – Victims Tales

May 24th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi

Nearly three weeks after Cyclone Nargis killed more than 100,000 people, the junta’s refusal to open the country to international aid help is condemning many more thousands to malnutrition, disease and, unless something is done quickly, death.

The generals have now grudgingly agreed to allow their Asian neighbors to oversee distribution of foreign relief and granted the United Nations World Food Program permission to fly nine helicopters.

Given the horrifying size and complexity of the disaster, that’s not nearly enough.

Our correspondent King Kong Janoi reports from the affected areas in Burma.

A child’s white body floats in a river.

There are hundreds of bodies and animal corpuses decaying in waterways and fields. No body comes to bury them.

Children beg for food. The roads I travel are lined with adults, children and old people force to plead for food to survive.

They are homeless and some have nothing left other than the rags they are wearing.

When I arrived in Labutta, one the worst hit areas by the cyclone it was raining.

Crowds of victims are trying to shelter under a small plastic aid roof.

40 years old, Daw Than Htwe is one of them.

Looking up at me with tired eyes, she says they can’t sleep at night.

“It is very cold when it is raining and this plastic roof doesn’t protect us but we have no where else to go. I just wear what I have left. We humbly lay our dirty wet bed sheets on the ground and try to sleep. We have some pack noodles and a bottle of rice but it’s far from enough.”

The military government has built some plastic huts for the cyclone victims.

Around one thousands families are sheltering in the Labutta football stadium and are receiving food from the military.

But residents complain that it is for show, so the military appears to be doing something. As there are ten times as many victims receiving no aid. They are staying in broken temples, near pagodas, and schools.

They are surviving off food from local donors.

Rice is being handed out but it’s not enough to go around.

Many people are turned away. They’re forced to eat anything to survive.

The situation outside the city is worst, as it’s hard for any aid to get through.

U Maung in Kawlamu village, says there are starving.

“We don’t have no fresh drinking water. Because of decaying dead animals and bodies the water we have is very bad but we have no choice but to drink it. There is no health care. If the army says they care for the people it’s only for show.”

Ko htoo from the capital Rangoon has teamed up with friends to provide some aid.

“We are trying to do as much as we can, we don’t blame anyone who doesn’t come to help. We just feel like our people are in need so we have come to help.”

It’s this kind of private aid that is keeping many alive.

But it’s very short term and far from adequate.

Another local donor Ko Soe Myet says psychological help is also desperately needed.

“The people are all numbed. They don’t have any fresh air because dead animals and dead bodies are lying everywhere along the road. There are so many unidentified dead bodies.”

40 years old, Daw Than Htwe says if she stayed in her village she would have died.

“We come to the city to seek any help. We didn’t have anything to eat along the two day journey. We just drank coconut water in the forest. Children are the worst off.”

She says troops are doing nothing to help in here village near Labutta.

Another group that made the journey told me, they didn’t eat for five days after the cyclone.

Daw Than says most of the relief is going to a military base near her village.

“There is a military troop based in the area, some of my children I left there. I only got them a bottle of rice after paying a military troop. My children want to come here but there is nobody to bring them.”

Many children have been left orphaned by the disaster and there is nowhere for them to go.

Rangoon local resident, U Myet Tun expresses the frustration and anger people have about the authority’s response to the disaster.

“Even the authorities don’t care about victims, don’t help them, and just ignore them. Why can’t they just let other countries in so that they can help them? Please let them in they should not be stubborn and stupid again for the sack of the people.”

There are one and a half million homeless people are still waiting for help.