Wednesday, 28 May 2008

In Myanmar, grief and resignation

THAT KYAR (MYANMAR): One of Daw Then Khin's grandsons has gone insane. He wanders day and night through the fields looking for his wife and son, both swept away by the furious floodwaters that came with the cyclone.

For two days, a granddaughter, 14-year-old Mah Myint Myint Kyi, could not speak. All her immediate family died: Her parents and her 7-year-old twin brothers.

The eldest granddaughter of Then Khin, Daw Thit Khine, 31, who lost her husband and both her children, is haunted by the memory of her 2-year-old daughter. The child, Thwe Tar, clung to her mother's neck until the storm snatched her.

In all, Then Khin, 70, said, she lost 15 members of her family on May 3 when Cyclone Nargis swept through this village in an isolated and hard-hit part of the Irrawaddy delta.

Her losses and those of this village have been bad enough. No better has been the mere effort to survive. On a weekend when a French ship full of relief supplies was turned away by Myanmar's military dictatorship, no aid from international agencies had reached here. Very little had come from the government itself, which claims it needs no help to feed and heal, only billions of dollars to reconstruct.

"I don't expect anything from the government — I never have, and I don't now," Then Khin said. "I heard on the radio about foreign help on its way, but I haven't seen any in the past 20 days. It's the same as before, nothing changed."

As this remote area struggles to cope in the storm's aftermath, the only government help Then Khin received was a small packet of rice, which she won by the luck of the draw.

The village authorities came only once, with some rice, blankets and other relief from the central government. The supplies were distributed by lottery, because there was so little. And the rice packet was not enough for even one meal for the 20 surviving family members who now crowd her hut.

The village of That Kyar lies near Pyapon, a major delta trading town.

Unlike the cyclone victims who live near roads and receive help from private donors bringing supplies from the cities, the people in villages like That Kyar have mostly been left to fend for themselves.

Times of India

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