(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.