(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis)
International groups in Burma are reportedly acknowledging that the army is “diverting” or “pilfering” aid (euphemisms for thieving) to Cyclone Nargis victims but are declining to give details for fear that they will be locked out completely.
Much of the concern is rightly with the army stealing big at the top end of the chain. But there will be theft at every level and among all agencies. An article by Yoma 3 has an example of stealing little in Kyimyindaing, just across the river from Rangoon, where village council officials are allegedly taking relief supplies being sent for homeless villagers. According to one,
“On the 14th, there was donating through the Red Cross for refugees at Dalechaung village. When the donors were present, there were 17 mosquito nets, yet when given by raffle to the villagers there were only 10. Where’d the other seven go? When the villagers investigated they found that the three-village chairman U Kyaw Soe took two, and fire brigade chief Aung Min, Tin Oo of USDA, then fireman Sein Hlaing took one each. The other [two] couldn’t be located.”
According to the villager, U Kyaw Soe is refusing to allow aid to be distributed to the villagers from outside without his involvement. A donor told Yoma 3 that 44 houses in Dalechaung were washed away as the river rose during the storm. The others are without rooves and the villagers are staying in an old rice warehouse but have been told that they will be thrown out. Maybe they have to go and vote.
To be sure, under the circumstances this is a very small theft, and the families of the officials may themselves be in need, but as this sort of behaviour will be repeated everywhere, the question for international aid groups is, if 10 out of 17 items delivered to the local level (from an unknown number originally) reach the people who really need them, is that enough?
The New Light of Myanmar of May 16 has a headline, “Legal action for any relief aid embezzlement; National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee releases announcement”. The announcement cannot be opened but it is in The Mirror and the fourth and closing paragraph runs roughly as follows:
“Whoever witnesses dishonest hoarding, trading, use for individuals and organisations, or misappropriation for other purposes of donated money or materials for cyclone victims from within the country or abroad can report and complain. Be informed that it has been organised for effective action to be taken in accordance with the law upon receiving reports and investigating.” [UPDATE: Full English text is on the Myanmar Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva website]
This sounds familiar. The May 17 edition of the New Light of Myanmar adds that:
“Witness[es] may inform about misappropriation of internal and international relief funds and supplies: Nay Pyi Taw, 16 May-Anyone may inform the Head of Office (Ph: 067 404021, 067 404022) or Deputy Head of Office (Ph: 0986 01002) of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement if he witnesses or knows that the cash assistance and relief supplies donated from abroad and at home to the storm victims are kept for self-interest, traded, used for particular persons and organizations, or misappropriated for other purposes.”
Good luck getting through.
Maybe DVB has tried, as it has many stories about stuff allegedly getting sold, including sacks of rice brought from abroad and allegedly taken to the Sanpya Market of Thinkangyun in Rangoon. Previously scarce Thai products are also reportedly turning up in markets and on stalls around the city, including “Two Shrimps” cooking oil and plastic cartons. According to DVB, traders are waiting at night and buying these things off the back of army vehicles. Mizzima and The Irrawaddy also have related articles.
A staff member of the communications ministry speaking to DVB also said that
“Thai Prime Minister Samak came and gave 50 satellite phones. The military took 30 of them. That’s legal, ok. Then, the military just yesterday also took the 10 laptops that the Chinese came and gave. That’s exact. As for the satellite phones, they took all the instructions as well as the battery chargers.”
Meanwhile, Yoma 3 also reports that cyclone orphans may be forcibly recruited into the army. According to someone who went to Laputta to give relief supplies,
“On the 5th and 6th, over 300 orphaned children, mainly boys, were put in army vehicles and taken. That’s what the locals said, and that they were going to recruit them.”
The day before, army officials reportedly announced by megaphone that they had arranged for “special care” for the children, and that they were preparing a register to place them with foster families. Although nobody’s name was put on the register they took children anyway.
And meantime, according to the New Era Journal, Nargis VCDs are now on sale under the counter in Rangoon, with video and photos of the damage in Laputta and Bogalay showing the real extent of death and damage and the lack of assistance received, according to a person who bought one for 500 Kyat (around 40 US cents). For anyone wanting to buy one, apparently they are available at the traffic light intersections in Myaynigone, Hledan and Mayangone, and Hsinchayhpone Market. But before buying, consider what happened to some of the people accused of having a certain wedding video in their houses.
NEJ says that private journals in Rangoon doing their best to cover the disaster have also been selling well. Among them, the May 9 edition of Bi-Weekly Eleven is at last online and it has a lot of candid photos that are worth a look even without reading the text. Its first 10 pages are taken up exclusively with the cyclone, including the obligatory government propaganda alongside its own much more informative stories.
Bi-Weekly has done a great job of getting back on its feet and reporting, although it has had to cut pages and increase cost to cover electricity outages, rising expenses and a shortage of paper. It says that the cyclone severely disrupted businesses in Rangoon and industrial areas also have faced problems due to a lack of electricity and water and fears that there will be serious inflation. The cost of a bag of charcoal, for instance, jumped 60 per cent in a single day on May 4, while the cost of a sheet of galvanised iron doubled. Some rice shops had closed their doors, while the costs of all forms of transport had jumped dramatically. Meanwhile, companies trying to meet export contracts had run out of materials with which to do the work.
An unnamed expert (neatly quoted directly above of a photograph of Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, pictured above, meeting affected villagers on page two) said that the situation was unprecedented and that in his more than 70 years he had never seen such disorder.
Elsewhere in Bi-Weekly, Maung Su San writes in an opinion piece that he was watching a Korean drama when news scrolled underneath about the cyclone, whereupon he opened a radio and listened to BBC and VOA in full. (Whatever happened to the “sky full of lies”? Have the censors all gone home to check on family?) And many of the photographs are interspersed among a 48-hour storm diary of the editor. His closing remark at 10pm on May 6 is wonderful:
“While starting work on Biweekly I watch CNN. A CNN reporter has reached Bogalay. CNN gets everywhere, no matter what. We still need to try to be like this. We still need the chance [right]. Who can say that one day we won’t be like others?”