Wednesday, 18 June 2008

"In that one night my whole life was destroyed" : International Medical Corps and Mingalar/Myanmar Helps Survivors Rebuild Their Lives

International Medical Corps

Yangon, Myanmar - Tint had moved his family to Dedaye town in April and was about to return to his home village to start preparing his paddies for the planting season when cyclone Nargis hit the delta. "The morning after the storm I looked around town and saw only devastation," he remembers. "I was convinced that everybody in my village was dead."

For five days he worried and waited for news but none came. Finally, he managed to hire one of the few boats that had not been destroyed in the storm and made the 90 minute trip to his home town. When Tint reached the village it was wrecked. "In that one night my whole life was destroyed."

Tint lost 20 relatives. One cousin's family was completely wiped out. Another uncle lost his wife and daughter. A nephew saw all of his children dying; a sister survived by hanging on to the remains of a cow shed.

A Trail of Destruction Only 17 houses were still standing, more than 100 had simply disappeared. First the wind had come, carrying away the thatched roofs. Then the water rose to the level of a grown man's chest. And finally huge waves gushed up from the delta carrying away the bamboo houses, the animals, and the people.

Tint's house is also gone. Only one of his water buffalos survived, now too weak to plough the paddies. He lost 300 baskets of rice he had stored in the village's granary that was washed away. This included all his food and seed savings.

"We all cried and then they told me how they survived," Tint remembers. The survivors were huddling in the monastery, the only brick building in the village. The morning after the storm they organized rescue missions. "They rowed out on to the water collecting people clinging to trees in the only two boats that were still intact."

The economic base of the whole village is gone. Half of the villagers live from growing rice; the others are fishermen or work as casual laborers. With only weeks left for preparing the paddies and planting this year's crop the outlook was grim.

Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods But there was also good news. The salt water that was swept into the fields was washed away by heavy rains following the storm. And slowly help came trickling in.

Mingalar/Myanmar, International Medical Corps' local partner organization, brought food to the village. Other organizations delivered tarpaulin for makeshift houses and distributed mosquito nets. The three fresh water ponds were contaminated and an aid group fixed one of them so that villagers had drinking water.

Now International Medical Corps and its local partner have teamed up to kick start the economic recovery in this and other villages. The poorest farming families in the village will receive equipment, including tractors to replace the water buffalos, fuel, and seeds. A village committee will be in charge of the equipment, making sure that as many people as possible will benefit. The machines will work every day on a different farm during the early planting season to prepare as many fields of as many farmers as possible. Tint will be one of them. "Without this assistance we would struggle. Maybe we would have planted only a small part for our own consumption; and next year a bit more. But maybe it would have taken us ten years to recover completely."

[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Reuters. ]

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