Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Reconstruction Just Propaganda, Say Rangoon Residents

The Irrawaddy News

Despite more than 1,000 tons of international aid dispatched to Burma for cyclone victims, many residents in Rangoon say they have had to pay inflated prices for reconstruction materials while others have received no aid and are still living outdoors.

“Although some Burmese troops are cleaning up roads, they are not giving any materials to the victims to rebuild their homes,” said Kyi Win, a Rangoon resident. Some plastic sheeting has been provided, but not enough for all the affected households; people have only plastic sheeting to shelter their homes, he added.

Meanwhile, local authorities set up some 40 temporary tents for those made homeless by the cyclone in Rangoon and then filmed the humanitarian exercise for state-run television.

“It is all just propaganda,” said Kyi Win.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone on Monday, Tin Yu, a local resident in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, said that non-international aid—government supplies and voluntary contributions by philaphropist Burmese— has been delivered to many cyclone victims who are staying in local schools and monasteries while authorities say they are carrying out reconstruction work on their houses.

But they aren’t, he said.

“Nothing is for free,” Tin Yu said. “To buy zinc and nails, people have to fill in an application form. One application form alone is 500 kyat (US $0.44). The purchase of zinc is limited—an average of just seven one-foot sheets of zinc per household. One sheet of zinc costs 4,900 kyat ($4.33).”

Supplies are sold at the Township Peace and Development Council office and people who want to buy materials need to provide a letter of recommendation from a member of the Ward Peace and Development Council, he said. People also have to queue up for a long time to get the chance to buy materials, Tin Yu added.

Meanwhile, Kyi Win said that local philanthropists—including celebrities and well-established figures in Rangoon—were being driven away from cyclone-ravaged areas by members of the pro-junta group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) while trying to make donations to the cyclone victims.

“Members of the USDA are telling the volunteers to give the supplies to them and they (the USDA members) will deliver those supplies to the victims on their behalf,” he said.

Tin Yu added that a group of private donors who recently visited wards 18 and 20 in Hlaing Tharyar Township were driven out by local authorities—members of the Ward Peace and Development Council.

Instead of helping the victims, the local authorities are confiscating supplies and selling them at highly inflated prices to the victims, said Tin Yu.

According to employees of local authorities, the chairman of Ward 8 in Hlaing Tharyar Township, Aung Myint, requisitioned some 20 gallons of diesel for himself, while the secretary of Ward 8, Maung Zaw, stole 15 gallons.

Aye Kyu, a resident in Laputta, one of the most affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta, said that USDA members in Laputta were forcing local people who have been aiding the cyclone survivors to wear caps bearing the emblem of the USDA while delivering supplies to victims.

About 70 percent of cyclone survivors are still waiting for aid, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Spokesman Marcus Prior said that just 250,000 people had received a two-week ration of rice, while 750,000 survivors were in desperate need of food, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, the Burmese prime minister, Gen Thein Sein, recently told his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, that the Burmese government had completed the first phase—emergency relief, and was now moving on to the second phase—rebuilding.

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