Kindness of fellow citizens saves cyclone victims

(Update of some Burmese language reports of Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath)

In some seriously cyclone-damaged areas of the Irrawaddy Division, authorities have begun moving homeless survivors a few at a time to towns that escaped the eye of the storm, but have not prepared properly for them once they get there (while simultaneously blocking a massive waiting international aid effort, as has been reported across the international news).

According to the Yoma 3 News Service (Thailand), starting from May 8 survivors in Laputta, Bogalay, Mawkyun (Mawlamyaing Island) and Pyapon have been getting moved by boat in small groups to intact towns in other parts of the delta. In Bogalay, the township officials arranged for the relocating of 420 people to Wakema and have housed them in schools there. In total, 3000 people are to be put up in the market ward primary school, high school nos. 1 and 2, as well as Mintharkyi and U Boe Kyi schools.

However, one of the local residents told Yoma 3 by phone that,

“The authorities said that a thousand sacks of rice and four drums of oil are on their way. In the meantime, without being asked the locals, shopkeepers, townsfolk are together feeding them fried rice noodles and so on.”

Similarly, despite hundreds of refugees coming to Kyonemange, the township council chairman was still more interested in preparing for the May 10 constitutional referendum that the regime has insisted will go ahead despite international protest:

“The chairman isn’t all that interested in the refugees. He’s just working on getting votes. That’s why locals have used people power to feed about 900 refugees.”

Furthermore, the chairman had berated the abbot of the Ohnpin Monastery and two ward council officials for taking in refugees who were not included on the registers of people to be received.

Villagers from Laputta are being moved bit by bit to Myaungmya and from Hainggyi Island to the divisional capital, Bassein.

According to VOA and RFA thousands of people have been getting moved to Myaungmya since May 6 and their numbers so far include over 300 children without parents who are being kept at high school no. 4. Although the places provided at some ten temporary shelters in schools and monasteries are sufficient, there is a lack of rations and medicines. One resident said that he had heard that in total 30,000 will be housed at these places.

A resident of Bassein said to Yoma 3 that the people had been housed at high school no. 3 but had been transferred to a football stadium. In Bassein too, doctors are using their own money to buy medicines and townspeople are organising to feed the refugees and victims of the storm being treated at the hospital.

Likewise, according to DVB private social welfare groups in Rangoon like the one headed by actor Kyaw Thu (seen here at right with comedian Zarganar [left] giving alms to monks protesting against the regime last September) have been distributing rice grain to the needy in areas including South Dagon and Tanyin (see further).

But not only international groups, also private citizens and domestic social welfare groups within Burma trying to give assistance have encountered problems with authorities. According to VOA, residents have complained of harassment and questioning when they have taken whatever supplies of food, clothing and other items to badly affected persons.

One person told VOA that when she went with five women friends to donate money to people in ward 102 of South Dagon Township they were told that they had to inform the local authorities:

“Yesterday we went to distribute [money]. While distributing, they said to contact the ward council. Why do we have to contact them? All of us folk want to distribute but people can’t for fear of them taking their cut… The council came along and stopped us, but we said, ‘We are not from any organisation, step aside’, and we went on.”

According to this donor, in Shwewarhtun Road of the ward there are many people who are hungry and have received nothing.

As a result of such conditions and a continued lack of help one week after the cyclone, there are growing tensions and simmering violence in the affected towns. Yoma 3 says that people in Rangoon are getting angrier about their predicament and the small amounts of assistance given by local councils. According to one resident of ward no. 8 in Shwepyithar,

“We heard that they would distribute food and went to find that it was only one pyi (about a quarter litre) of rice grain and one hseithar (about 160gm) of potato per household, and even then it just went to the people close to the USDA and Women’s Affairs, which led them to argue with the other people.”

In some other areas victims of the cyclone have been getting pathetic amounts of assistance and they have been forced to boil the rice grain as a thin soup because there is not enough of it to cook as normal.

Details continue to emerge of the extent of damage in Laputta, which now by many accounts appears to have suffered even worse destruction than Bogalay. The villages of Hlaingpon, Bitut, Kainthaung, Pyinzalu, Layyeinkwin and Pongyithaung have all been destroyed. According to a villager from the region who spoke to Yoma 3,

“Bitut had over 500 houses. Afterwards, there were just three standing. From Pyinzalu, the police chief, four constables and around only 40 villagers remain. Up to yesterday (May 7) still nothing could be done about the floating corpses.”

Homeless people thrown back onto streets

There have been other cases reported of homeless cyclone victims in Rangoon being thrown out of temporary accommodation. The New Era Journal reports that in the outer industrial township of Hlaingthayar, over 100 people who had been sheltering at primary school no. 25 were told at midday on May 9 that they would have to leave. According to one of them they had been given the impression that the township council would make an arrangement for them to stay but later were told that it is not possible. Before they were sent back a doctors’ charitable group came and distributed small amounts of rice, oil and beans.

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6 responses to “Kindness of fellow citizens saves cyclone victims

  1. Pro-government Thugs Attack Relief Vehicles
    By MIN LWIN, Friday, May 9, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Club-wielding members of a pro-regime citizens’ group attempted to hijack relief supplies in Rangoon, according to local charity groups and non-government organizations in the former Burmese capital.

    A convoy of vehicles carrying rice to cyclone victims in Rangoon’s Thanlyin Township was attacked on Thursday by armed members of Swan-Ar-Shin, a government-supported organization that helped suppress last September’s demonstrations, one Rangoon source reported. The attackers were armed with clubs and knives, the source said.

    One NGO worker said permission had to be obtained from another pro-government organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, before relief supplies could be delivered

    Looting and violent clashes involving hungry residents are being reported from Rangoon’s outskirts, where security is lacking. Fighting broke out on Thursday among people queuing at a food distribution center set up by a local relief group in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township.

    Looting is also being reported from the Irrawaddy Delta, where at least a million survivors of the cyclone are in dire need of food, fresh water and medicines. One source told The Irrawaddy that one group of people had broken into a paddy mill in Dedaye Township and carried away the rice.

    ————————-

    Junta expels Qatar aircraft carrying relief supplies
    Mizzima News, Friday, 09 May 2008 13:11

    Chiang Mai – The obduracy of the Burmese military junta is inexplicable. On Thursday it sent back an aircraft from Qatar carrying relief material for cyclone hit victims. The aircraft was sent back from Rangoon’s Mingalardon airport.

    The military aircraft from Qatar carried a team of 62 people along with relief material including medicines and landed at the Mingalardon airport, a source working in the airport said.

    “They were sent away after officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs met them at about 9:15 a.m.,” the source said.

    In a statement issued from Naypyitaw, the junta’s Foreign Ministry said the government refused to allow the rescue and information team which came in the aircraft, therefore the government has ordered the aircraft to return.

    “Myanmar (Burma) had no prior knowledge of the rescue, search and information team which came along with relief supplies. The government was only aware that the aircraft would come to hand over relief supplies,” the statement said.

    “We are not yet ready to receive such emergency rescue, search and information teams from foreign countries for the time being,” the statement added.

    ————————-

    UN Suspends Aid Shipment to Burma
    By WAI MOE, Friday, May 9, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    The UN announced on Friday that it has suspended all aid shipments to Burma, following the junta’s seizure of all food and equipment of the World Food Program (WFP).

    WFP officials said they have “no choice” but to suspend their aid efforts following the unprecedented seizure by the secretive military government.

    As a humanitarian disaster grows in the Irrawaddy delta, the junta has drawn worldwide criticism for its foot-dragging in allowing humanitarian aid to reach the survivors of the cyclone that wracked the country last week.

    Well-dressed Burmese army officers and soldiers were doing photo-ops on state media on Friday, shown delivering some basic relief items such as food and water to cyclone victims in a superior, condescending manner.

    Meanwhile, perhaps as many as 1.5 million people in the affected areas are hopeless and helpless.

    The junta and the UN have been in a standoff for the past several days with the UN and other groups wanting quick access and the junta adamant that it wanted relief but no foreign aid workers on Burmese soil.

    In the wake of devastating Cyclone Nargis, the humanitarian situation in Burma is growing and there’s a real danger that an even worse humanitarian tragedy might unfold if urgently needed water, food and medicine isn’t distributed quickly, the United Nations in a press release on Friday.

    The junta’s mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, said on Friday that it will accept relief supplies, but no foreign aid workers or rescue teams.

    The top generals in Naypyidaw have accepted aid mainly from countries that are not critical of the regime.

    The junta first accepted aid from Thailand, India and China. They also accepted aid from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Observers said that the distribution system by the junta is poorly managed and largely ineffective.

    While Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the top generals selectively pick and choose what aid to accept from foreign nations, they are stalling on issuing visas to the UN and other international aid workers.

    The UN said the junta’s refusal to allow foreign aid workers into the country was “unprecedented” in the history of humanitarian work, even as survivors of a devastating cyclone waited for food, shelter and medicine.

    Observers said Than Shwe is making all the major decisions about foreign aid workers.
    Eric John, the US ambassador to Thailand, said that if the junta delays visa application to aid workers one more day, more people will die.

    “There are humanitarian workers. They are ready to go in to help. They are not going in to overthrow the government. They are not going in to spy,” said the US ambassador.

    “They have specific skills for immediately responding to disaster. They are the people we want to send in to Burma.”

    Meanwhile, the Burmese embassy in Bangkok where aid workers have been waiting to get visas was closed on Friday for a public holiday in Thailand.

    The visa process will be delayed until Monday.

    Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday, “It [visas] should be a simple matter. It’s not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of a humanitarian crisis.”

    Meanwhile, the regime’s TVs is spending large amounst of time broadcast vote “yes” propaganda on the constitutional referendum on Saturday.

    Well-known singers and actors were shown in one spot dancing and singing while urging people to vote “yes.”

    A survivor from Bogalay Township in Irrawaddy delta, one of the worst hit areas by Nargis, said that many survivors have seen no relief goods or aid workers in the area.

    “People are waiting to die,” he said. “We need aid such as food, water, medicines and shelter, not just video clips for show.”

    San Aung of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma charged the regime of playing a double standard on aid policy.

    “Aid must go into the hands of the survivors and victims of the cyclone as soon as possible. The military regime must allow in international aid and relief workers,” he said.
    Nyan Win, a spokesperson of the National League for Democracy, said delaying aid is unacceptable.

    “The military regime must allow international aid and aid workers in the country freely.

    If not, the decision to deny aid to victims is committing murder,” he said. The NLD just formed an emergency relief committee.

    “The current situation is a real concern to all Burmese and all humankind. This is national affair and humanitarian crisis. People are dying,” he said.

    Meanwhile,Burmese officials have denied entry to a disaster rescue team from Qatar as well as medical nurses and doctors from Indonesia, who sent arrived in Burma with an aid package on Friday.

    Moe Thee Zun, a former student leader who is living in exile, said his friends in Burma told him the situation in the Irrawaddy delta is now out of control.

    “If the junta doesn’t allow international aid workers, it is a kind of genocide. So why is the world waiting while people are dying hour by hour? It must save people.”

    According to press reports on Friday, the Pentagon had ordered four US Navy ships now in Thailand to deliver aid to victims in delta region if approval is given by the regime.

    The US is also considering an air drop aid to the delta region. The news of US Navy ships near Burmese water have been widely shared among Burmese who learned the news from radio news and colleagues.

    “There are a lot of rumors that US is coming to deliver aid,” said a Rangoon journalist.

    “Some people even went and waited at the (Rangoon) port.”

    He added, “And people in the delta area keep looking at the sky.”

  2. Pingback: Help Burma. Suggestions « deathpower

  3. Tragic disaster retold by two villagers
    Mizzima News
    Friday, 09 May 2008 22:15

    [ Interview ]

    The devastating tropical cyclone ‘Nargis’ and subsequent tidal waves struck the villages in Labutta Township on May 2. Two lucky survivors retold Mizzima their tragic stories, how their family members perished in the storm and the hardships they are facing.

    Ma Ei Lay (12)
    Chanthagyi village No. 1
    Labutta Township

    “I arrived at Labutta in the morning. It took me 4 to 5 days for a 10-mile journey. I walked. There’s no relief operation here. The authorities are sending all survivors to the nearby township, Myaungmya. They said they would not set up a rescue and relief centre in Labutta. We must find and stay at friends’ and acquaintances’ residences”.

    We learnt that all the survivors will be sent to Myaungmya by LID 66. The soldiers threatened to kill the villagers if they don’t obey their orders.”

    “I’ve been in Rangoon for just two days. Many people lost their lives in one night. It’s awful and horrible. My parents died. The storm ripped off the roof and flung it away. I was hanging from a tree. When I regained conscious, I jumped to the ground and found many corpses in the paddy fields. I waded through the corpses and came back to my village. I could not recognize my own village. Only some trees were left without leaves.

    “I had nothing to eat on my way to town. There was no shop selling food. All the roadside vendors raised prices. I had to overcome many hardships for four days on the way. I drank coconut milk. There was no water on the way. We had to cook rotten rice soaked in water by mixing it with coconut milk”.

    “I feel extremely sad at losing all my family members, my mom, dad, brothers and sisters. I feel helpless. We lived with all relatives totaling about 40 before the storm. My family alone had 10 members”.

    Ko Khin Maung (40)
    Chanthagyi village No. 1
    Labutta

    “The situation is terrible. The whole village was lashed by the storm. Only one person is left in my family of 10. Nine were washed away by the waves even as I was dragging them.

    The storm was severe and terribly powerful. I can’t find the remains of my family members.”

    “I have no relatives left in Labutta. All my family and relatives were washed away while we were sheltered in our own homes. We have never experienced such a powerful storm before. We never listened to the radio. The authorities must take all responsibilities for the tragic losses. They didn’t make any announcement and or gave a storm warning to us. We were unprepared and had to suffer when the storm hit”.

    “We knew only when the strong wind hit our village. We didn’t expect such a severe storm. We had to take shelter together in one strongly built house. We didn’t expect such high tidal waves. We could not do anything when the tidal wave rushed in. All were washed away by the tide. All animals were washed away also”.

    “We didn’t get any assistance till we arrived at Rangoon on May 8. There was no relief, no aid at all. No one came and rescued us. We rescued ourselves. There were 365 villages in our township in 56 village tracts. About 300 villages were washed away in the storm. According to statistics compiled by Konethedan ward in Labutta town, the number of storm victims touched 126,000 till May 4. The supplementary figure is not included in this preliminary figure. I didn’t get even a bottle of drinking water as there was no relief and rescue operation”.

    “Some people from Labutta town donated rice and broken rice. We had to prepare and eat gruel with these. We still don’t have drinking water and other foodstuff. The health situation is deteriorating too. I learnt that three children died of cholera this morning when I contacted over telephone”.

    A man from Labutta who requested not to be named

    “After the storm, there was acid rain. The acid rain caused skin burns and many people suffered. The outer layer of the skin burnt and the inner layer appeared unlike a burn injury. Most of the storm victims are suffering from this acid rain skin burns, and an oily layer appeared on their burnt skin. We can’t drink even the rain water which has become salty like seawater. There are about hundred acid rain victims. We are facing a lot of hardships”.

    “The acid rain drops was like fire. We saw sparks when the raindrops hit bamboo groves. Most of the people lost their family members while they were clinging to each other. They were washed away one after another the surging tidal waves. Many people are traumatized and have a lost look on their face as if they are semi-unconscious. They lost all their belongings and the psychological effect is terrible”.

    “The Light Infantry Division (LID) 66 picked up all storm victims and survivors and sent them to nearby towns when the victims arrived at Labutta jetty. The victims had to disembark at the jetty and boarded again other boats. They are sending the storm victims to Myaungmya, Pathein and Wakema”.

    “Labutta town is crowded with the cyclone victims. There’s no space for more victims in the 30 monasteries in the town. The schools are crowded too. The victims have to live in the roadside and on the platforms. There’s no shade and shelter for them during daytime. The victims have nowhere to go as all the villages disappeared in the storm”.

  4. I thought you might be interested to know that a relief worker from AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster relief and humanitarian organization, entered Myanmar earlier this morning. The relief worker will assess the crisis situation and continue with efforts to obtain clearance for the organization’s airlift of 15 tons of essential medicines and medical supplies to Yangon. We are in the process of planning additional shipments of essential supplies, including water purification sachets and supplement anti-malaria medications.

    If you’d like additional information, please let me know.

    – Erin Skinner, on behalf of AmeriCares (www.americares.org)

  5. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Myanmar: Survivors of Cyclone Nargis

  6. Pingback: Disease spreading in Bogalay « Rule of Lords

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