Sailors detained for abandoning ship mid-cyclone

(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis; photo: a Light Infantry Division 77 “refugee relief camp” in Kunchangone; source: The Irrawaddy)

There are all sorts of news reports coming from Burma speaking to the twisted priorities that characterise dictatorship. Apart from holding a referendum and chasing after the usual internal and external destructive elements, authorities in the delta have according to Yoma 3 detained sailors who left their docked ships at the height of the cyclone. The news service reports that the naval officers and seamen jumped ship at the Thilawar Pier during the storm, as they like others had not been adequately warned of its approach. An unnamed naval officer told Yoma 3 that,

“Twenty-three men from those on vessel duty at Thilawar, including officers, have been detained at the Irrawaddy Naval Headquarters. It’s understood that they’re to be charged with abandoning ship. I know that some of them have been kept under house arrest. In the fierce storm some went ashore and took to high ground. Some also disappeared. It’s not known if they disappeared in the water or if they deserted and didn’t send word.”

Yoma 3 says that eight naval craft sunk during the storm although there has been no official comment on this, which has reportedly caused disgruntlement in the navy. The lost vessels were stationed at the Irrawaddy, Pyapon and Bogalay bases, among others. It also says that around 3000 naval families are believed to have had their homes damaged or destroyed in the cyclone and so far there has been no systematic effort to start rebuilding them.

Meanwhile, while Burma’s state newspapers are insisting that “some foreign news agencies [have] broadcast false information… that the Government has been rejecting and preventing aids for storm victims”, it’s not difficult to find specific complaints that it has been doing just that. Not only overseas donors but also those from within the country are encountering more obstacles.

RFA reports that two influential abbots from Karen State who travelled to the delta to deliver relief to victims are among those who have been harassed and obstructed. It says that the two, the Taunggalay Sayadaw, U Pinnyathardhi and the Zwegapin Sayadaw, U Kawi, went to Bassein with their junior monks and disciples in over 20 vehicles to give aid to cyclone refugees relocated there. According to one person who was in the convoy

“When we arrived there they asked for a register. Having given it, the special investigation task forces said that they wanted to photograph our vehicles. The Taunggalay Sayadaw said, do you need to tell me? Monks do monks’ work, people do people’s work. The abbot was angry. Then when we also went there to donate directly to the refugees, they went themselves and also wanted to watch and to donate [the monasteries’ goods]. Thereafter as the assigned individuals in the area also said that we couldn’t do the things that we wanted to, the abbots went back.”

The two abbots later reportedly made donations at Twente, in Rangoon Division.

There are also more checkpoints and questioning on the road to Kunchangone, where the number of dead in that township alone is estimated to have risen to 22,000, or over two thirds of the population, according to one donor who spoke to Yoma 3 after returning from there. DVB also has a report in English on conditions in the township.

Comedian Zarganar, who hasn’t been joking much since he began leading some private efforts to take relief to affected persons, talked to VOA about the difficult conditions in one part of Myaungmya where people have been relocated from the islands:

“In Myaungmya there are around 30 camps. These 30 camps—to give an example, one big camp holds a village [population]. It takes about an hour and a half to go there, through [river] water, then across coastline, then water. There are around 1600 to 1800 refugees there. They haven’t had anything done. There hasn’t been any help howsoever. Those people also can’t come here. No one has thought how these people can have food and drink.”

In Bogalay, VOA gives a victim’s account of neglect in the cyclone’s aftermath, from someone who lost her mother:

“Our mother didn’t drown to death. She died the next day from the cold. We also reckoned that we’d die ourselves, not getting any help. The next day people said that there was distributing of rice grain, and we wanted to eat rice too. When we went to get the grain they said it was just for those in the field. They said they wouldn’t give it. We hadn’t eaten for two days. They said that the houses on the roadside were not to do with those in the field so we couldn’t eat. Around two days passed and they gave once. After that they also didn’t give [anything].”

The report continues that hundreds of people are crowding into monasteries between Bogalay and Pyapon and if conditions are not quickly addressed then there are likely to be contagious diseases breaking out, although even that biological possibility too has apparently been ruled out by the junta.


2 responses to “Sailors detained for abandoning ship mid-cyclone

  1. Leading Monks Send Money, Aid to Refugees
    By MIN LWIN, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Burmese monks have again stepped into the front lines in a moment of national crisis, this time helping to provide money, food, shelter and medical supplies to survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

    According to Mandalay residents, many senior monks captured people’s imaginations—and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations—while taking the lead in organizing effective relief operations in the delta.

    Senior monks in Mandalay and elsewhere, speaking in dhamma [the Buddha’s teachings] talks to laypeople, are also urging people to show direct action through compassion by volunteering time or money to help the needy, in accord with Buddhist teachings.

    Mizzima Gon Yi Sayadaw [sayadaw is an abbot’s title] of Mandalay spoke about the refugees’ need of food and shelter in his dhamma talks on May 11 and 12.

    “I offered money to Sayadaw, and he got many donations to fund the purchase of supplies. I’m sure this aid is reaching affected people,” said one Mandalay resident.

    U Kawthala, also known as Dhamma Sedi Sayadaw, of Mandalay contributed 10 million kyat (US $8,695) from his monastery fund, and his lay followers then donated 120 million kyat (US $104,347) following his dhamma talks in Zay Cho market in Mandalay early last week.

    Dr. Ashin Nyanissara, also known as Sitagu Sayadaw, of nearby Sagaing started collecting relief material after the cyclone hit lower Burma, and organized a team of relief workers to go to the storm-stricken area.

    He received donations from Burma and abroad and personally handed donations to some survivors.

    According to residents in Bogalay Township, Ashin Nyanissara quickly established the Sitagu Asia Royal Emergency Clinic for cyclone victims at a home for the elderly in Bogalay. So far, he has also assisted more than 900 refugees from Bogalay at the Sitagu Association’s monastery in Bogalay. He also arranged for generators and water filtration systems to be set up in areas around Bogalay.

    “Sayadaw Nyanissara brought plastic shelter, food, water and supplies,” said Myo Zaw of Bogalay Township.

    The Ministry of Information has ordered magazines and journals not to publish stories about monks providing aid to the refugees and needy.

    Monks played a leading role in the civil uprising in September 2007 against the military government. Many monks were beaten or shot and hundreds were detained in prisons. Many monks went into hiding, fearing arrest and imprisonment.


    Diarrhea, Dysentery Widespread among Refugees
    By MIN KHET MAUNG / RANGOON, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    A volunteer Burmese doctor, after seeing a number of patients in Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta following Cyclone Nargis, shook his head in disbelief.

    “Almost 80 percent of my patients had diarrhea and dysentery!” he said. He asked not to be identified in fear of retribution from the military regime.

    “In the first week [after the cyclone], most of the patients caught a cold,” he said, while working at a monastery near Daydanaw village, where he treated about 60 patients in two and one-half hours.

    “I feel regret for not having a chance to give enough time to my patients here. Many of them need a more thorough check up,” he said. “There are just too few doctors to treat too many patients.”

    Other volunteer doctors and medical personnel are finding the same symptoms in the worst hit areas of Kungyangone, Dedaye, Pyapon, Bogalay and Laputta.

    Health conditions among the storm victims are in a precarious state two weeks after the storm, according to medical staff, because of the junta’s refusal to allow aid and medical staff to reach the victims in a timely fashion.

    “The junta is to blame in this regard,” said another doctor working with an NGO. “They didn’t take the health issue seriously.”

    He said the junta’s lack of response has caused increasing numbers of illnesses and a risk of epidemics.

    The lack of sufficient food, even in areas where relief camps have been established, is also placing refugees at greater risk, he said, because many people suffer from malnutrition.

    The lack of nutritious food and proper shelter combine to lower patients’ resistance, making them more susceptible to serious illnesses.

    Adding to the problem of a lack of relief supplies and medicine is a widespread lack of information about disease-related issues, such as waste disposal, sanitation and hygiene. Much of the delta population is simply uninformed about such issues, say doctors.

    People in many areas are forced to use water from wells, rivers and lakes where bodies have been decomposing. The lack of sanitation facilities has filled the water supply and the ground water with fecal matter and other disease-bearing materials.

    “The way they eat and the way they excrete are no longer healthy, since so many people have no access to proper sanitation,” said one doctor.

    The number of existing clinics in the area prior to the disaster was already inadequate, he said, because the regime has never employed enough health workers. Volunteer doctors from Rangoon and doctors attached to NGOs are playing an essential role in getting some medical supplies and services to the major relief camps and most remote areas.

    Still, many areas are out of the reach of health workers, because of lack of transportation and organization.

    “The junta should take the lead in getting medical services to the victims,” said one NGO expert.

    Meanwhile, a relatively small number of NGO-attached medical staff and volunteer medical personnel are trying to cope with an overwhelming number of patients.


    Reconstruction Just Propaganda, Say Rangoon Residents
    By SAW YAN NAING, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Despite more than 1,000 tons of international aid dispatched to Burma for cyclone victims, many residents in Rangoon say they have had to pay inflated prices for reconstruction materials while others have received no aid and are still living outdoors.

    “Although some Burmese troops are cleaning up roads, they are not giving any materials to the victims to rebuild their homes,” said Kyi Win, a Rangoon resident. Some plastic sheeting has been provided, but not enough for all the affected households; people have only plastic sheeting to shelter their homes, he added.

    Meanwhile, local authorities set up some 40 temporary tents for those made homeless by the cyclone in Rangoon and then filmed the humanitarian exercise for state-run television.

    “It is all just propaganda,” said Kyi Win.

    Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone on Monday, Tin Yu, a local resident in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, said that non-international aid—government supplies and voluntary contributions by philaphropist Burmese— has been delivered to many cyclone victims who are staying in local schools and monasteries while authorities say they are carrying out reconstruction work on their houses.

    But they aren’t, he said.

    “Nothing is for free,” Tin Yu said. “To buy zinc and nails, people have to fill in an application form. One application form alone is 500 kyat (US $0.44). The purchase of zinc is limited—an average of just seven one-foot sheets of zinc per household. One sheet of zinc costs 4,900 kyat ($4.33).”

    Supplies are sold at the Township Peace and Development Council office and people who want to buy materials need to provide a letter of recommendation from a member of the Ward Peace and Development Council, he said. People also have to queue up for a long time to get the chance to buy materials, Tin Yu added.

    Meanwhile, Kyi Win said that local philanthropists—including celebrities and well-established figures in Rangoon—were being driven away from cyclone-ravaged areas by members of the pro-junta group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) while trying to make donations to the cyclone victims.

    “Members of the USDA are telling the volunteers to give the supplies to them and they (the USDA members) will deliver those supplies to the victims on their behalf,” he said.

    Tin Yu added that a group of private donors who recently visited wards 18 and 20 in Hlaing Tharyar Township were driven out by local authorities—members of the Ward Peace and Development Council.

    Instead of helping the victims, the local authorities are confiscating supplies and selling them at highly inflated prices to the victims, said Tin Yu.

    According to employees of local authorities, the chairman of Ward 8 in Hlaing Tharyar Township, Aung Myint, requisitioned some 20 gallons of diesel for himself, while the secretary of Ward 8, Maung Zaw, stole 15 gallons.

    Aye Kyu, a resident in Laputta, one of the most affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta, said that USDA members in Laputta were forcing local people who have been aiding the cyclone survivors to wear caps bearing the emblem of the USDA while delivering supplies to victims.

    About 70 percent of cyclone survivors are still waiting for aid, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Spokesman Marcus Prior said that just 250,000 people had received a two-week ration of rice, while 750,000 survivors were in desperate need of food, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

    Meanwhile, the Burmese prime minister, Gen Thein Sein, recently told his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, that the Burmese government had completed the first phase—emergency relief, and was now moving on to the second phase—rebuilding.

  2. Actor says much more aid needed for cyclone victims

    May 23, 2008 (DVB)–Prominent actor Kyaw Thu, head of the Free Funeral Service Society, said domestic and international aid provision is still falling short of the needs of cyclone victims in 20 townships and villages in Irrawaddy division.

    Kyaw Thu told DVB in an interview that his team had been providing the survivors with rice, cooking oil, salt, onion and clothes but found that their distribution “could not meet the actual needs of the victims”.

    DVB: How did the cyclone victims react when assistance was given?

    KT: They were very glad. They prayed for us. We were also very glad that we were able to provide relief supplies to those who were in real trouble.

    DVB: What is the situation like for children in the places where you have been?

    KT: We saw some children were having severe problems surviving as they no longer have parents.

    DVB: How are they surviving then? Who do they get help from?

    KT: Some are at monasteries and schools by the arrangement of local authorities while others are staying with their relatives or those they are close to.

    DVB: What do you think the worst problems are in the places you have been?

    KT: I think health conditions. I am worried about it. I am being worried that people will suffer from diarrhoea, dengue fever and malaria because of unclean water and sanitation problems.

    DVB: Have any other groups been to those places?

    KT: Yes. There are others like us. Some are from companies and some are private donors. We have seen them. We are just unhappy with the fact that we couldn’t give the survivors as much as we wanted to donate.

    DVB: What is the mental condition of the survivors?

    KT: I don’t know how to describe their mental state. I think is pretty bad. Obviously, our mental state was quite affected by seeing their troubles.

    DVB: What do you think should be done?

    KT: I think it would be best if local and international experts could cooperate to support the victims.

    DVB: What difficulties did you encounter in aid distribution?

    KT: We could only provide aid to people in places we could reach. There are many places still inaccessible, such as places adjacent to the sea in Kongyankone township. I think is best if we can find ways to help people living in those remote areas.

    DVB: Did you see any dead bodies in the places you have been?

    KT: We saw many dead bodies. We couldn’t take care of them due to transportation constraints although we did provide free funeral services. It is more challenging to fulfil funeral functions in places located in or by the water than it is on land.

    DVB: You have gone from place to place to help the victims. Do you think they will face difficulties surviving in the future?

    KT: I think they will because we could only give them three pyi (approximately 12 kg) of rice, salt and other supplies for each family. I can’t imagine what they will be like after they have eaten the rice we gave them. However, if they can receive aid on a regular basis their situation will be better.

    DVB: The school term is about to begin. What do you think of the schools in places you have been?

    KT: It is hard to even believe that there were villages in places we have been because most of the houses and buildings were destroyed and so were the schools. There were great losses in Rangoon so you can imagine how badly those villages were affected by the storm. I don’t see any prospect of children going to school this year.

    DVB: Anything else you want to say?

    KT: We are trying our best to help the cyclone victims while working on the funeral service. At the moment, we have closed our clinic temporarily because the clinic building is in bad shape and doctors are giving treatment to people locally.

    DVB: How can Burmese nationals overseas donate to the FFSS?

    KT: They can call +95-1-560 333 or +95-1-578 184.

    Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

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