(Update on Burmese language news reports after Cyclone Nargis)
Fears that delays in delivering aid to cyclone survivors could result in widespread illness and a second wave of deaths are now being realised.
According to the Yoma 3 News Service (Thailand), diarrhoea is spreading among the cyclone victims in Bogalay due to a lack of adequate assistance to a region still covered with decomposing corpses over a week after the cyclone. That report says that there are around 4000 refugees still in Bogalay town and around 100 survivors are continuing to arrive from surrounding villages each day. A report from RFA, however, says that there are three sites in Bogalay each housing 8-10,000 people.
In Laputta, children have reportedly started dying from cholera due to the lack of clean drinking water. Ma Win, a resident of ward 10 in the town told Yoma 3 by phone that
“We’ve received no aid at all. At this moment there are food problems and especially water problems. When it rains we are getting rain water. Now as all the drinking water sources are destroyed, children have been getting diarrhoea and from that cholera has broken out and more than a few children have died.”
As thousands of refugees have come into Laputta town from surrounding villages, the monasteries and hospitals are stretched and some have also been put into houses.
Despite the claims of government media that officials are responding promptly, people in Laputta are getting no help, Ma Win insisted:
“There hasn’t been help from anybody yet. The clothes, food, pots and cups coming from the generals in Rangoon still hasn’t been given to anyone. The authorities are sitting on it and making a household register.”
RFA reports that in Bogalay government officials are selling rather than freely distributing supplies. The supplies arrived in the town on the night of May 6 by army vessel but have since been held and are not being distributed freely but instead are being sold. One resident said that the supplies have been stored and even water purifying tablets are being sold to shopkeepers rather than given out. The resident also told RFA that
“A lot of tents have reached here but they didn’t give frames… If they’ll give frames then there’re a lot of available plots of land where they can be set up. But they didn’t do a thing so people have had to stay in religious halls, high schools 1and 2, which are crowded.”
The head of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group, U Myint Aye, has told Yoma 3 that its members in Bogalay are distributing rice grain, medicines and material for shelters as much as possible:
“The refugees’ suffering here is great. We have bought and distributed as much rice grain as we can. HRDP Bogalay residents have taken charge. We can’t distribute it to one (victim) by one. We’d get trampled by the crowds. We give three bags of rice to a monastery to cook, the next day, another three bags. So far we’ve distributed over 70 bags a little at a time like that.”
Myint Aye said that there is an outbreak of diseases among the refugees, including diarrhoea, blisters and rashes and that there is still no clean drinking water in the town.
DVB has a report in English that survivors in Bogalay have been forcibly taken from monasteries.
Survivors whom the government has moved from Bogalay to Bassein and Myaungmya have survived on rations donated by local residents in those towns, who have been taking up collections of money to buy more supplies. RFA said that people from Bogalay have also been relocated to Ma-ubin by vehicle.
Tragically, a ship carrying food and materials to the delta from the International Federation of the Red Cross sank on Sunday.
Actors, musicians join together to help cyclone victims
Domestic actors, musicians and movie directors are getting together to donate emergency supplies to cyclone victims in the absence of effective government assistance and the continued difficulties that international groups are having in getting into the country. Actor Kyaw Thu’s charitable organisation has been distributing supplies in parts of Rangoon, including Thanlyin and Southern Dagon New Town and has also sent some rice to Myaungmya in the delta. At Thanlyin there was a fight during distribution caused by the tense and very difficult conditions under which people are surviving. The association was planning to go to Laputta on May 12. Apart from rice it is taking fuel for running water pumps in areas where the refugees have been located. It has also been demolishing houses that were destroyed in the storm and using their pieces to cremate the dead. (Source: RFA, May 11)
Comedian Zarganar (seen here on left with Kyaw Thu giving alms to monks leading protests at Shwedagon Pagoda last September) has been organising actors and other artistes to donate and raise money and personally take supplies to affected areas. Those who have joined with him include Lwin Moe, Lu Minn and Eindra Kyaw Zin. The actors are using their money to purchase food and water and are driving it in convoys themselves to deliver to victims of the cyclone. Zarganar said that they were now prioritising clean water and water purifiers because there had been outbreaks of diarrhoea and skin diseases, as well as sheets to protect people from ongoing rainfall. They had also organised for a group of 11 doctors to travel with them and on May 12 would be going to Kunchangone, Dedaye and Twente. (Source; VOA, May 11). (See also DVB English report.)
Cyclone an excuse for soldiers to rob merchants
On May 8 soldiers under Eastern Regional Command at the Mile 105 checkpoint on the Muse highway in Shan State, northeastern Burma, stopped some 20 trucks coming back with goods from China and confiscated the contents on the pretext that they need them for the cyclone relief effort. A driver of one told Yoma 3 that
“Before they stopped 10 and 12-wheelers and gave a little money to get the Chinese goods. This time they don’t bother paying. They said they’re to give to the storm refugees and then took them.”
One of the merchants commented that the government just wanted to keep face with the public so it stole from them. (Source: Yoma 3, May 12)
A crying baby and a sigh
This item of news is not directly on the cyclone, but speaks to life in Burma today.
A woman who sighed while in a queue to vote in the constitutional referendum on Saturday, May 10 was threatened with three days’ jail and a fine. The woman, Ma Thaung Le (a.k.a. Ma Yi Myint) was waiting to vote at polling station no. 1 in Zigone town, Pegu Division around 2:30pm when she sighed out loud. The ward chairman and police accused her of disrespecting the process and detained her, throwing the polling station and surrounds into uproar. According to one person, she sighed because of the crying of her 3-year-old daughter whom she had left at home to come and vote. People begged the officials not to arrest her, as she survives from day to day by selling bean sprouts and could not afford to be away from her child. Finally, the ward chairman, U Tin Ohn, settled the matter with a payment of 10,000 Kyat (around US$8-), which was collected among the locals as Thaung Le has no money. (Source: DVB, May 11)