Sunday, 3 August 2008

Myanmar aid scheme sows new fears among cyclone survivors

BOGALAY, Myanmar (Khaleej-AFP)- Myanmar's military regime is giving desperately needed aid to cyclone survivors on credit, requiring them to pay back to the government any assistance offered, officials said.

The secretive military last week officially allowed local journalists to visit the disaster zone for the first time since Cyclone Nargis slammed into the country on May 2.

During the tour, local officials laid out their system for delivering aid to farmers in the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, where entire villages were washed away by the storm that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing.

The officials insisted that government aid had allowed for farmers to plant their fields and for fishermen to return to their boats -- but insisted that the cyclone victims would have to reimburse the regime for the aid received.

"If everything is free of charge, its value is very low. If something must be paid back, then they try their best to do it. This is the system," one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. (JEG's: the junta is charging the victims for our generosity and profiting from it - dandy...)

"The government will distribute everything for them through a payback system. Otherwise, controlling the aid will be very difficult," he said.

About 2.4 million people are struggling to piece together their lives after the storm, according to UN estimates.

Farmers have no choice but to accept the loans, but say they don't know how they will ever repay them.

"We have received power tillers and diesel on credit from the government. Even then, we still need more help to get bank loans so that we will have cash to hire field hands," said Kyi Win, 57, a farm owner in Sat San village outside Bogalay.

But local officials insisted that farmers were ready to start surviving on their own.

"The World Food Programme is delivering rice for villagers. Even if they stop delivering rice, villagers can feed themselves with their own income," said Zaw Myo Nyunt, a local official in Sat San.

The official assessment differs markedly with opinions expressed away from the military's ears, as well as with assessments by UN officials, who have warned that many farmers were not able to plant their crops this year.

Over the last two weeks, many farmers in the delta told AFP that as much as one-third of the region's cropland could lie idle -- simply because so many farmers died that no one is left to tend the fields.

Others who have received aid and tried to plant their fields say that as much as half the donated rice plants did not sprout, while draught cattle brought in from mountainous parts of Myanmar have not adapted to the delta's marshy lowlands.

"If the UN cannot deliver rice and stops their assistance to us, we will be in trouble. We have no income now as our employers are finding it difficult to start their farming," said Moe Wah, a 24-year-old farm worker.

"I have no job now and am relying on rice aid from the WFP. All of us need jobs urgently to resume our lives. We lost everything in the cyclone," she said.

It's not just the farmers questioning Myanmar's official aid system.

Construction companies have donated (???) more than 100 new wooden homes in Sat San and the nearby village of Kyaine Chaung Gyi, but the people living there have been given no deed to the property nor any indication of how long they will be allowed to use the homes. (JEG's: pure show only... what's in it for the junta)

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