A week has passed since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar. The situation on the ground continues to deteriorate: food rationing is inadequate, medical supplies are running out and hundreds of thousands are still without shelter.
“The prognosis is bad. 65,000 dead, possibly in excess of 100,000. More than 1 million homeless, battling to stave off hunger and disease whilst living amidst debris and bloated bodies. Cholera may yet kill more than the cyclone.”
Bangkok Dazed received another email from a friend in Yangon:
“I’m fine but so many others, so many, are homeless or dead or without shelter. I really did not take much notice of the cyclone warnings from the state media although they did say it would be serious. Now I am careful of batteries in my laptop, but thank god I can send emails. I hope this gets to you. I have no power but everything is alright. Writing this by torch and candlelight. It was a very scary 13 hours from before midnight of the 2nd to afternoon of next day. Had a slight accident with my car, front grill/lights ripped out. I am unhurt but rattled. So many trees are down … Yangon looks wounded.”
“These are the educated youth of Myanmar with no hope for their future inside the country. He said that he did not want to live in this country when he is 30 in 2010. He wrote about the cyclone in his blog and today he and his friends are trying their best to help the victims.
“According to his news, the cyclone victims are desperate, hungry and grab whatever they can from any office or donors. Cholera is spreading, no clean water, no security, transport is bad, everything in chaos.
“Is there anyone that can calm the situation and promise help to these victims?”
Myat Thura gets an update from his family:
“After the cyclone, the prices of commodities rose to 50% of that before the cyclone; but now they have stabilized to around 20% above the pre-cyclone level. Petrol price is now 5,000 kyats a gallon (around 4 US dollars).
“Most of the main roads have been cleared of the debris and fallen trees. Electricity is coming back in a few areas but most places are still without electricity. Municipal water is coming back.”
The Junta has partially allowed the entry of some foreign aid teams. Perhaps international pressure has worked. Golden Colour Revolution posts a letter which is a sample of the sentiments expressed by Burmese living overseas:
“We, Burmese medical professionals and Burmese civic organizations all over the world have been following the news of cyclone Nargis victims with deep sympathy and concerns. Cyclone victims have been without effective help for 6 days now and we are very much concerned about unnecessary human suffering and deaths. The situation is extremely dire with many people barely surviving.”
Rule of Lords gathers stories on relief operations. He notes that
“doctors are using their own money to buy medicines and townspeople are organizing to feed the refugees and victims of the storm being treated at the hospital.”
Even local relief groups are prevented from giving aid to victims:
“Private citizens and domestic social welfare groups within Burma trying to give assistance have encountered problems with authorities. According to VOA, residents have complained of harassment and questioning when they have taken whatever supplies of food, clothing and other items to badly affected persons.”
Residents are now complaining of the little assistance they are receiving form local councils:
“Yoma 3 says that people in Rangoon are getting angrier about their predicament and the small amounts of assistance given by local councils. According to one resident of ward no. 8 in Shwepyithar,
“We heard that they would distribute food and went to find that it was only one pyi (about a quarter litre) of rice grain and one hseithar (about 160gm) of potato per household, and even then it just went to the people close to the USDA and Women’s Affairs, which led them to argue with the other people.”
“In some other areas victims of the cyclone have been getting pathetic amounts of assistance and they have been forced to boil the rice grain as a thin soup because there is not enough of it to cook as normal.”
Burma Partnership gives an update:
“Malaria and cholera cases and death in delta around worse-hit areas of Laputta, Bogalay and Pyapon Townships and around 600 villages are still under water. The current situation is quite overwhelmed and many heartbreaking stories emerge as some local residents and aid workers are able to reach to areas like Laputta, Bogalay, Pyapon, and Hinegyi Island. On Thursday (8/5/08), the regime turned back one relief flight with the reason that it carried search and rescue team plus media without permission.”
Moe Gyo provides a narrative of how volunteers are distributing aid inside Myanmar:
10 May 2008 (Saturday)
07:55 hr – Left Yangon (through Hlaing Thar Yar)
08:45 hr – Reached Ayeyarwaddy Division
10:20 hr – Passed through MaUBin (from junction to MaUBin – bad road condition) – fair destruction along the road
10:40 hr – Passed through KyaitLatt (MuB – KyL: fair road condition) – severe (buildings/trees) destruction along the road and in KyaitLatt town
11:30 hr – Reached Phyar Bon (KyL – PhB: fair road and poor bridge condition) – severe destruction in Phyar Bon (some relief camps there – don't know the number)
12:30 hr – Arrived Bogalay Township – Flat tire, helped by locals, who shared their experience: received warning in the morning at around 7 on ward by speakers (they know only for the Bogalay town, but not sure about the villages around/across the river, near sea), no evacuation plan, many people didn't pay much attention as they didn't expect much danger based on the past Tsunami experience in Delta (little damage), they started noticing of heavy winds around 6 p.m. and became stronger, the sky were totally red, wind blew from different direction, then many people in town took shelter in neighbors’ houses (with brick-wall/strong roofs), debris everywhere, one person said it could have been worse (more casualties) in town if happened during the day time as many people were on the road (20 deaths in Bogalay town – figure not confirmed), water went up to about 3 feet in town and reached up to 20 feet in surrounding villages, where thousands died. Those who helped us said that they will never forget the experience and they lost their houses (saw in person), but they seemed to have high-spirit waiting for help to rebuild their houses (now they got help from their neighbors for shelter and rice from relief camps). But, under the condition, they shouldn't wait any minutes. Distributed a few bags of milo, ovaltine, some food etc. to them and gave a tent-sheet (bought from BKK) to an elderly who still lived under a house with no roof (experienced some rain). The conditions in surrounded areas of Bogalay are very bad as the authority had to issue Martial Law in some areas (some looting and killing for food). Those who survived (7-8 only in some villages) left their villages.
14:00 hr – Went to the river bank (similar to Tsumani affected area to some extent – based on what we saw in Phuket area). Talked to some locals: situation is still very chaotic, they saw 4-5 bodies in the river, we saw one, nobody seemed to care about that even we saw some people around and they were trying to save an engine from the river). Saw some victim family/refugees in a monastery, but couldn't talk to them due to time constraint. One thing that surprised me was that we didn't hear anyone crying for help or asking desperately for food/shelter. I'm sure that will be a very different story in severely affected areas that can be reached by boats. Some aid workers and volunteers have already arranged with some boats to reach there to deliver supplies.
15:00 hr – Left Bogalay (after fixing the spare-tire. Note: everyone must take a spare-tire as the roads were full of debris in some areas)
16:45 hr – Passed through Kawt Mhuu (fair road, bad destruction along the road) – heavy rain
Conclusion, based on this experience, it's very feasible to reach to the affected areas in Delta very quickly. Road conditions in some areas are bad, but manageable: with normal speed (40-50 km/h), even Bogalay can be reached within 4-5 hours. Since some bridges are not strong enough, heavy supplies (such as rice) wouldn't be practical. There were some normal checkpoints (asked questions: where to go? driver's name?) One must avoid any argument with the authorities at the checkpoints as it might just delay achieving your main objectives.
Golden Colour Revolution shares the complaint of a relief group operating in Myanmar:
“You have seen and heard about the situation in here. Yesterday, we distributed the food and shelter to the cyclone affected area within our project area. It's totally 800 household and as our project is the food security project we need to support them in this situation.
“But today we received the letter from the authorities to stop that without the permission. Now, all the NGOs are trying to support and go to the effected area, and but we cannot go immediately as gov don't want to permit it. They ask us to give support through them.
“So you can think and imagine of the people in delta region. U know, this is not the politic, it's really humanity matter. We are now sitting many meetings in the office all the time and busy with storing the materials.
“All the Burmese people outside of Myanmar should do something for that. Pls pray for all the refugees. “
KyiMayKaung ponders on the recent tragedy:
“Nargis is a beautiful word and means “narcissus” in Urdu. It was also the name of a famous Bollywood actress who was achingly beautiful, with a pale oval face, black arched eyebrows and plump arms. In one of the novels of Salman Rushdie, the woman who cooks, but cooks with rancor, turns out nargissi kofta, or deep fried meat balls encasing hard boiled eggs, otherwise known as Scotch eggs.
“Something so beautifully named has caused a lot of death and destruction. We are only now starting to hear excruciating survivor stories.”