Monday, August 25, 2008

Cyclone Victims Turn to Towns for Handouts

A woman walks amongst the debris of homes still being occupied in the Irrawaddy Delta. (Photo: AFP)

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Economic hardships have forced a growing number of survivors of Cyclone Nargis to leave their homes in rural parts of the Irrawaddy delta to seek assistance in Rangoon and other urban centers, according to local sources.

“I came to Rangoon to look for donors,” said a 50-year-old man from Kyone Chin, a village in Dedaye Township. “We don’t have enough food in our village, and our farming and fishing businesses have still not recovered. We need assistance badly.”

Kyone Chin village lost 50 of its 1,400 inhabitants and ninety percent of its structures in the deadly cyclone, according to the man. He added that food supplies and other assistance from UN agencies and the government have been dwindling over time.

“The whole village was terribly destroyed. The worst thing is that now we are facing hunger,” he said, explaining why he had come to Rangoon to find support for his village.

Private donors played an important role in the early stages of the relief effort, but nearly four months later, their numbers have fallen. Due in part to government efforts to control movements in the cyclone-stricken region, few trucks carrying privately donated relief supplies are now reaching remote villages, say local people.

Other cyclone-hit villages in Dedaye Township, including Leik Kyun, Hmae Bi, Lay Ywa, Mae Kanan, Taw Pone and Yae Pu Wa, are also facing severe shortages of foodstuffs and other basic supplies, according to local residents.

They are not alone in waiting for aid. A volunteer from Rangoon who has been involved in relief and rebuilding efforts in the delta said that many villages in Kungyangone Township, including Taw Kha Yan Gyi, Taw Kha Yan Kalay, Mayan, Maezali and Hti Pha, are also desperate for additional assistance.

“The situation is hard to say,” said the volunteer. “They do get a little assistance from the government and they have received some from UN agencies. But it’s not enough.

“There are still many people living under make-shift temporary shelters constructed with bamboo posts and tarpaulins sheets. Some can’t get rice to eat, so they are just surviving on what little food is available to them,” the volunteer added.

A local journalist who recently returned from Laputta Township said that farmers there were also struggling, as seeds planted late in the season have not been growing well. Fishermen are also worried about their future food security, as poor-quality nets and boats provided by the government have proven to be almost useless.

“In Laputta, there is no immediate concern about rice, since it is mainly provided by the UN,” said the journalist. “The problem is with rebuilding livelihoods. The farmers are not doing well because the tillers provided by the government are often broken, and seeds are not growing properly. Fishermen also have trouble because the boats they received after the cyclone often need fixing, and the nets are useless for fishing.”

The journalist added that much of the aid that does reach some of the more remote villages soon ends up in the hands of village officials, as little effort has been made to rein in widespread corruption.

Meanwhile, in Mawlamyainggyun Township, there are also reports of severe food shortages in the villages of Yae Twin Kone, Pet Pyae, Ta Zaung, Alae Yae Kyaw, Myit Kyi Toe and Pya Leik.

According to a resident of Alae Yae Kyaw, some local villages have sent small groups to Laputta to appeal for aid from local relief organizations based there. The results of their efforts have been disappointing, however.

“When we asked an NGO in Laputta for assistance, they provided just 3 pyi (about 750 ml) of rice per person for the whole month.”

Little aid ever reaches the villages of Mawlamyainggyun Township because of their inaccessibility. Villages located on the boundary of Mawlamyainggyun and Laputta townships, such as Yae Twin Kone, Pet Pyae, Ta Zaung, Alae Yae Kyaw, Myit Kyi Toe and Pya Leik, are especially deprived because they can only be reached by chartered boats and are reportedly not on the government’s list of villages eligible for support.

If villagers in these areas do not receive aid to rebuild their lives soon, the hunger and destitution they face now could result in more severe problems in the future, said a local volunteer who has witnessed the situation.

“Unless they receive some means of surviving, the hunger of these villagers could lead to killings and robbing. If we can’t heal a small sore now, we may face more serious harm in the long run,” said the volunteer.

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