Slow recovery for Burma's cyclone victims
Aid trickles in, but locals struggle to find food before winter's harvest.
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In a village at the nearby Bogely Township, Saw La Tey and his family fled their house to a nearby high point, just as a wall of water came speeding toward them. Everyone managed to escape except his enfeebled grandmother.Skip to next paragraph
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Two hundred of the village's 308 residents went missing that night. The survivors squeezed into the only three buildings in the village that the storm had left untouched and stayed there for almost a month until building supplies arrived.
A steady trickle of aid
Aid to these areas came excruciatingly slowly at first, hampered by the government's restrictions on NGOs' relief work and apparently minimal assistance. "The government has not even visited once since the storm," an elder of the village of Mya Sein Ken says.
In the government's place, a network of more than 30 informal Burmese aid groups and dozens of international NGOs have been quietly delivering aid, often by boat, to many of the affected villages. Despite early fears that it would choke the aid flow completely, the junta has for the most part permitted Burmese organizations and local citizen groups to deliver these relief supplies.
Larger foreign organizations, however, are still victims of government suspicion and red tape, say aid agency representatives. Authorities restrict most foreigners, including journalists, from visiting the delta area.
A select few foreign NGO workers may visit the region after applying for a permit, but are still subject to the whims of the government.
Authorities also regulate the amount and type of aid that can be delivered. "Any monetary donations have to go through the government. Those who handle cash often have to pay under the table," says Burmese aid worker Hein Thein. "Donations made 'in kind' are the most effective form of aid because the government won't steal it." This includes educational supplies, basic foodstuffs, and construction materials.
This steady trickle of aid is allowing locals to resurrect their shattered villages. Across the delta, motley structures of tarpaulin and corrugated iron provided by relief organizations have replaced the bamboo and teak houses that the winds carried away.
In the village of Sewa, Nargis pulled the school clean off the foundation and tossed it aside, leaving a pile of bamboo sticks and mutilated chairs in its place. But today students recite lessons in a brand-new building that sits next door.
Relief supplies have helped villagers rebuild every house in the village, and all residents now have a roof over their heads.
But aid agencies say that while such aid has made the difference in averting the worst-case scenarios predicted in Nargis's wake, without a massive relief increase the situation will remain dire.
"Most of the housing is temporary and we still haven't shifted gears to provide any long-term solutions, such as permanent housing," says an official from a leading international NGO.
Survivors help one another
To fill the gap, local communities have banded together to ensure their survival. In Mya Sein Ken, villagers invited farmers from nearby villages that lost all of their land to plant their seed in paddies that survived the storm.
An informal loan network has developed, where some villages pool their resources to lend cash and goods to other areas in need.
In Sewa, hundreds of villagers scavenged for used building materials and rebuilt the destroyed stupa in the center of town, without a drop of outside help.
"We have no choice but to rely on each other," says the village elder in Mya Sein Ken. "We have to do what we can to repair our lives."
How to help
Church World Service
P.O. Box 968
Elkhart, IN, 46515
Habitat for Humanity
121 Habitat Street
Americus, GA 31709
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208
Partners Relief and Development
P.O. Box 27220
Albuquerque, NM 87125-7220
Save the Children
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
United States Fund for UNICEF
125 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038
P.O. Box 9716, Dept. W
Federal Way, WA 98063-9716
Worldwide Impact Now
Attn: Burma Cyclone Relief Fund
30802 Coast Hwy, SPC F20
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Compiled by Leigh Montgomery