Rains bring despair for Burma survivors
Thin Thin used palm fronds and broken wood to build shelter on a remote Burma island after the cyclone. But as heavy rains return, it’s not enough to protect her food or her family.
The little rice she has is wet, her clothes are soaked, and every day she waits for help from the government that never comes. All around, fellow villagers who survived one catastrophe are on the verge of yet another.
“The rice we got is already wet from the rain.
It’s not very good to eat,” the 22-year-old said, adding that it had been given as a gift by a local trader. “Some of our children have got stomach pains from eating it.”
Cylcone Nargis sent a storm surge barrelling through her village on Haing Gyi island in the Irrawaddy Delta, which suffered the brunt of the devastation. The new rains, heavy and getting heavier, are adding to the despair.
Her cramped makeshift shack can’t keep her dry.
“It doesn’t help us much when it pours. We just sit in a corner for the whole night until the rain stops,” she said.
“Apart from the rice, we have received nothing. We need a new roof too but materials are very expensive now. It’s going to cost more than 100 000 kyat ($100). How can we afford that?”
Her story is repeated for countless tens of thousands across the disaster zone. But on this island right in the mouth of the delta, the dire warnings from aid agencies about a “second catastrophe” are starting to ring true.
With no food or fresh water, and no protection from the punishing tropical rains, starvation and disease are stalking them. Every day the hungry grow hungrier, and the sick get a little bit sicker.
Over a fire, Thin Thin grills two tiny fish to cook lunch—all that her family of 10 will have to eat for this meal.
Her neighbour Htet Htet Hlaing (24) looks like she belongs in hospital—pale in the grip of her untreated heart disease. Her mother said that vital medication was out of the question now.
Once home to about 200 families, Kan Gyaing is one of the many coastal towns obliterated in the disaster.
Officially, about 62 000 people are dead or missing, and the United Nations estimates 1,5-million are in desperate need of food, clean water and shelter. It warns that many more could die if help fails to reach them soon.
Many of those here are migrant workers from across the country who came to work in the fishing industry in the Irrawaddy Delta, which is also an important farming region.
None of them are registered as living in Kan Gyaing village, making it clear just how difficult it will be to ever prepare an accurate tally of those who perished in the disaster.
Residents say at least 80 of the people living here were swept away in the disaster. And soon that number could rise.
The sound of coughing and wheezing comes from another hut. Htet Htet Hlaing and her mother both begin to cry.
“She needs to have medicine every five days,” her mother says. “We can’t afford it any more.” - AFP