Tag Archives: Zarganar

Food aid cut as crops fail in Irrawaddy delta

Sea-level farmlands like these have not recovered from Cyclone Nargis

A week ago the United Nations humanitarian news agency ran a telling interview with a survivor of Cyclone Nargis, the storm that devastated Burma in May.

The interviewee, a 62-year-old farmer whose daughter-in-law and granddaughter were killed in the cyclone, said that although after the disaster some monks gave her paddy seed with which to replant her fields, the crop has failed.

“Even with fertilizer, the plants simply didn’t take or died,” Aye Yin told a reporter from the IRIN news service. “Some say it’s because of the salt water that inundated much of our fields. I don’t know. In any case, it doesn’t matter now.”

To get a little income, her grandson now collects empty water bottles from the streets and sells them to recyclers. The family has also received some assistance from the World Food Programme, but Aye Yin says that it isn’t enough.

“Now all we worry about is how we will survive the coming months,” she said. “I pray we won’t starve to death.”

She is going to have to pray harder. In November, the WFP is set to scale back its work in Burma’s delta, from general to “targeted” distributing of rice. Continue reading

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Cyclone relief no laughing matter

On the night of June 4, a group of police officers came to a house in suburban Rangoon, searched it and took away one of the occupants. But the person they took is not a wanted robber, murderer or escapee. He is a comedian.

Although Zarganar (pictured above at left, with fellow actor and social activist Kyaw Thu) is famous in Burma for his antics on stage and screen, he has not been joking much lately. Instead, he has been at the front of local efforts to get relief to where it has been needed most since Cyclone Nargis swept through his country a month ago.

Zarganar, whose adopted name means “pincers”, has thrown everything into the relief effort, organising hundreds of volunteers in dozens of villages to help in giving out food, water, clothes and other basic necessities to thousands of people.

His sister told Voice of America that he had sold his and his wife’s mobile phones to use the money for the work, and that as the monsoon is setting in they had just purchased seeds to distribute in order that villagers who have nothing to plant might at least grow vegetables and stave off hunger.

He has also been a vocal critic of the government response to the cyclone, constantly pointing to the shortfalls in assistance and needs of survivors.

“The odor [of death] sticks with us when we come back from the villages,” Zarganar told The Irrawaddy news service on June 2, a full month after the cyclone struck. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Disease spreading in Laputta & Bogalay

(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: Continue reading

The inanity of dictatorship

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A group of schoolchildren in Burma were recently given a lesson on the inanity of their government and its officialdom. According to a report by the Thailand-based Yoma 3 news group, representatives of the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association came on June 6 to distribute free books to students at a middle school in Shwepyithar, an industrial area among Rangoon’s outskirts. They posed for photographs on the school grounds with the chairman of the local council, the books and the children. When done, they took the books back and left the children with nothing.

This little event speaks volumes about how dictatorship debilitates society. Whereas all ceremony is in part about something being seen to be done, it is in most places also about something actually being done: the awarding of a prize, the giving of a donation, the opening of an edifice. But in Burma, whether or not something is actually done has long since ceased to be of primary importance. What matters above all is the affirmation that it has been done, through endless public performances choreographed to demonstrate the benevolence of the state and wisdom of its agents, irrespective of reality.

Continue reading