Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Burmese Volunteers Struggle to Bring Aid to Cyclone Survivors

Men carry an injured elderly man at a refugee camp in Laputta, in the Irrawaddy delta. (Photo: AFP)

Burmese medical relief workers in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta region report that restrictions applied by local government authorities and soaring prices for supplies are preventing them from helping all those who urgently need aid.

“The medicines we brought along with us were not enough for the people who needed treatment,” said one volunteer doctor.

A nurse who has just returned from a remote area of Bogalay Township said stomach problems were a common complaint among survivors forced to exist on a diet of coconut shoots.

“People suffer from diarrhea and stomach pain after eating coconut shoots, but they have no other food,” she said.

The nurse bought medical supplies with money donated by her family and friends, but soaring prices prevented her from helping all those who needed treatment.

One Rangoon news journal reported that Burmese volunteers were taking medical aid by boat deep into the delta, to such hard-hit places as Laputta, Pyapon and Bogalay.

Foreign aid workers in the delta include medical personnel from India, Laos, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, France, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Chinese medics have treated 4,000 people in Dedaye, in the Irrawaddy delta, and Kungyangon and Kawmu in Rangoon Division. Thai medics have treated nearly 4,000 people in Myaungmya and Laputta in the delta region.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has, meanwhile, established a task force, led by Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, to coordinate and channel international aid to Burma. Asean is planning to send hundreds of additional relief personnel to cyclone-ravaged areas.

Relief networks have also been set up by several Burmese organizations in exile, including the National Health and Education Committee, the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Burma Medical Association and Dr Cynthia Maung’s Mae Tao Clinic.

Mahn Mahn, a leading member of the Burma Medical Association, said that three days after the cyclone struck the region his organization had established 34 networks to provide food, drinking water, clothes, shelters, medicines and building materials.

But Mahn Mahn said that because the networks had been set up by Burmese in exile he was concerned about the security of volunteers working within Burma to distribute the aid.

Despite the difficulties, Mahn Mahn said, the networks had been able to help more than 40,000 survivors who had received no assistance from the state.

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