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.”

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