Last May, Cyclone Nargis ripped through Myanmar (formerly Burma), killing almost 85,000 people and leaving 50,000 missing.
Initially, foreign aid was blocked by the military junta. Six months later, the United Nations has raised half of the $484 million it seeks in relief money, and fundraising is increasing. But relief efforts are far from over, and survivors are struggling to make a living.
A blogger for the Asia Foundation’s “In Asia” blog writes from Myanmar about reconstruction efforts and the plight of the country’s people.
From Burma: Six Months After Cyclone Nargis
There is a phrase I hear over and over as I travel around the Irrawaddy delta in Burma (also known as Myanmar): “We have nothing left.”
Six months ago, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in this region and roared across the flat and vulnerable lands of the delta, bringing with it a massive storm surge of sea water. The wind and the water combined into a fatal and catastrophic force that wiped entire villages off the map. People drowned. Houses were demolished by the storm. Personal possessions washed away. Farms animals were killed. Fishing boats sank or were smashed to pieces in the waves. Survivors in the worst-hit areas were left with nothing.
How does one go about restarting life after losing your family, your home, your job, and all your possessions? In Burma, it is probably far harder than in many other places. Immediately after the cyclone, reports came out that Burma’s ruling military regime was preventing international aid workers from entering the country, and restricting the movement of those already working inside the country. It took three long weeks of diplomatic negotiations before the regime began to ease restraints on the international community’s efforts to launch an emergency operation. Excruciatingly slowly, aid agencies were granted access to affected areas.
I have been spending a lot of time here, and, today, six long months since the cyclone hit, the region is still in dire need of help.
In one village south of the delta town of Mawlamyinegyun, a man showed me a black-and-white passport photo of his wife – she was killed during the cyclone, along with their four children. He used to run a noodle stall and, even if he had the equipment or the money to invest in starting again, no one in the village has the spare cash to buy a bowl of noodles. He now lives in a shack constructed from donated tarpaulin and wood that he salvaged out of the debris left behind by the cyclone. Inside the tiny shack there is just enough space for one person to lie down on the split-bamboo floor. The man’s few belongings are all things that have been given to him by aid organizations – a few plastic buckets and cooking pots, a flashlight, a blanket. The only thing he has from his life before the cyclone is the stamp-sized photograph of his deceased wife.
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