Saturday, 7 June 2008

Meet the ‘Handy Youths’ of the Irrawaddy Delta

Members of the Handy Myanmar Youths
help build “budget huts”
for homeless survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

The Irrawaddy News

A group of young people led by a well-known Burmese Internet blogger, Nyi Lynn Seck, is at the forefront of reconstruction efforts in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta, helping to build simple shelters for the homeless.

Nyi Lynn Seck calls his group the Handy Myanmar Youths—and they’re certainly proving to be handymen in the flattened villages of the delta.

They supply the villages with the materials to build so-called “budget huts,” bamboo structures with tarpaulin walls and roofs. The 200 square-foot “huts” cost 150,000 kyat (US $125) to build.

Handy Myanmar Youths have so far helped construct more than 100 such shelters in five delta villages. If local villagers build the huts, the group helps out with food and temporary shelter.

Nyi Lynn Seck and his group took 12 hours to travel to the area from Rangoon, negotiating bad roads and talking their way through several checkpoints.
“We build as many huts as we can afford,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The group met farmers in refugee camps who were anxious to return to their villages and resume work on their spoilt land. “They want to start their normal lives,” he said.

Using bamboo and tarpaulin,
members of the Handy Myanmar Youths
help build “budget huts”
for homeless survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

The farmers wanted to return alone at first, followed later by their families. “They have long-term plans, even in the midst of disaster,” he said.

The group found remote villages where people were sheltering in the remains of their ruined homes rather than relocating to local government refugee centers in the towns. “I saw groups of survivors who hadn’t received any relief aid at all. We helped them as much as we could,” he said.

One village the group visited had lost 400 of its people in the cyclone. Many devastated villages were still inaccessible, Nyi Lynn Seck said.

Nyi Lynn Seck said his group existed on donations from within Burma and from abroad.

Cyclone Victims Migrating to Thailand

Cyclone survivors travel on a fishing boat from the cyclone devastated city of Bogalay, 125 km (78 miles) southwest of Rangoon in the Irrawaddy delta. (Photo: AP /Myanmar NGO Group)

The Irrawaddy News

“I came to Thailand because the situation back in the Irrawaddy delta was becoming critical,” said cyclone survivor Ma Win. “We had received no aid. My child was seriously sick and suffering from diarrhea. I was ill too; we only had boiled rice to eat for three days.”

As soon as he heard about the disaster, Ma Win’s husband left Thailand where he was working and headed home to Laputta to look for his wife and six-month-old son. They had survived the cyclone, but their house was destroyed. He immediately decided to take them back with him to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border.

They traveled for nearly two days by bus, truck and foot and had to pay soldiers 500 kyat (US $0.43) at each army checkpoint along the road to Mae Sot. They arrived on May 7. Ma Win and her baby are now receiving care and are regaining their strength.

Ma Win is among some 100 Burmese cyclone victims who have arrived recently in Mae Sot, which borders the Burmese town of Myawaddy.

Mahn Mahn, a team leader for the Backpack Health Worker Team, a medical relief group that has been assisting the new arrivals, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “The cyclone victims are arriving separately—nearly 100 people so far. Some are from the Irrawaddy delta and some are from Rangoon. If they didn’t lose their parents, they lost their sons or daughters.”

Among the cyclone victims who have arrived recently are orphans. Some are currently sheltering at the Mae La refugee camp, at Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao clinic or in the Backpack office. Others are staying with relatives and friends in Mae Sot town, said sources.

“Some came here in the hope they would receive aid, said Mahn Mahn. “Most people have no plan. Some will stay here wherever they can. Others say they will look for jobs here in Mae Sot.”

The newcomers mostly came from disaster hard-hit regions such as Kungyangone and Hlaing Tharyar in Rangoon division and Laputta, Myaung Mya and Ngapudaw in the Irrawaddy delta, according to sources in Mae Sot.

Tin Shwe, who works at the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, said that 49 new arrivals are now staying in the clinic and more refugees are expected.

Burmese social workers, such as Mar Mar Aye, are counseling the newcomers and providing some financial support.

Meanwhile, Thailand-based labor rights groups, Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) and the Mekong Migration Network, released a joint letter of appeal to the Thai government on June 4 saying requesting help for the cyclone victims while stressing: “The people of Burma will only migrate to Thailand if there is no other means of survival.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Adisorn Kerdmongkol, from the Action Network for Migrants, said, “If the survivors and the farmers cannot cultivate their land, I think most of them will migrate to Thailand.”

The labor rights groups sent the joint letter of appeal to the Thai ministries of the interior, labor and social development and human security, calling for Thai authorities to allow Burmese migrants to return home to visit families who were affected by the cyclone, but then be allowed to return to Thailand.

The groups also urged the Thai government to ensure that the Burmese military authorities provide full protection to the cyclone victims in terms of shelter, food, medical care, reconstruction and restoration of livelihoods.

Rights Groups Report Post-Cyclone Abuses

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese and international human rights groups have accused Burma’s ruling junta of committing serious rights violations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, heightening concerns that the regime’s refusal to allow an open and transparent international relief effort is endangering the safety of victims of the deadly storm.

In a statement released on Friday, the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) said that inmates of Rangoon’s Insein Prison were being forced to eat spoiled rice, even after the International Committee of the Red Cross replaced “moldy, foul and inedible rice” damaged by exposure to rain.

AAPP said that a few days after prison authorities received the new rice, they reverted to using rice that had been stored in a warehouse when Cyclone Nargis ripped the roof off the building.

According to the group, the spoiled rice was causing intestinal problems such as diarrhea and dysentery, as well as other symptoms, including vomiting, dizziness, rashes and stomach swelling.

Meanwhile, leading international human rights advocacy group Amnesty International (AI) claimed on Thursday that the Burmese military junta has been misusing international aid and forcing cyclone victims out of emergency shelters.

In a report titled “Myanmar Briefing: Human rights concerns a month after Cyclone Nargis,” AI said that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) began evicting homeless cyclone survivors from government and unofficial relief camps after it declared an end to the rescue and relief phase of its disaster response on May 20.

The report also details cases of local officials “obstructing or misusing aid.” Despite statements against such conduct by senior leaders, corruption continues to go unpunished, according to the report.

The group said that it had received over 40 reports or accounts of aid being confiscated by government officials, diverted or withheld instead of being handed to cyclone survivors.

AI’s Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the report aims to alert the donor community of ongoing human right abuses and “ideally, to ensure that they will stop.”

The main human rights concern after the cyclone was displacement in the affected areas, he said.

Zawacki also said that claims by the United Nations that its agencies had provided relief goods to one million survivors needed to be put into context.

“Even if it is correct that one million people have been reached, that simply means that they have received some formal assistance.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been comprehensive or sufficient. Some formal assistance—that could be a single bottle of water for a single person,” he said.
He also noted that more than 2.4 million were affected by the cyclone.

“So even if the UN’s one million figure is correct, that is still less than half of all the people who need to have assistance,” he said. “That is a really huge concern, as it shows that access to the Irrawady delta is still not what it should be.”

Zawacki described the arrest of Burmese comedian Maung Thura, also known as Zarganar, on Thursday as a “message of intimidation” directed at political activists.

“By detaining him, the SPDC is seeking to send the message that political dissidents and people who are politically active should not be involved,” the AI researcher said.

He added that by arresting Zarganar, the junta was contradicting an announcement it made on May 27, when it declared that individual donor were free to carry out relief work.

AI also published another Burma-related report on Thursday.

“Crimes against humanity in eastern Burma” deals with the Burmese army’s ongoing military offensive against ethnic Karen civilians.

The offensive, which began two years ago, has involved widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, according to the report.

Business Booms for Some in Irrawaddy Delta

People affected by cyclone Nargis wait in harbor of Laputta to board boats prior to travel back to their devastated villages in the southwest Irrawaddy Delta. (Photo: AFP)

The Irrawaddy News

The old proverb “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good” sums up the effect Cyclone Nargis had on the economy of the devastated Irrawaddy delta region of Burma.

While agriculture, fisheries and the salt industry are struggling to recover, guesthouses and restaurants in Laputta, a major delta center, are reporting that business is booming. Buses from Rangoon to Laputta are packed, and operators are advising travelers to book three days in advance.

Three of Laputta’s five guesthouses have been contracted to the UN and international agencies, and the other two are usually full, their few rooms booked by visitors to the town and individual relief workers.

House rents have soared. “A small hut that can accommodate 10 people costs 100,000 kyat (US $80) a month,” said a Laputta landlord.

Because of the shortage and expense of accommodation, most visitors from Rangoon stayed in Laputta’s monasteries, he said.

By a bitter irony in a region where thousands are still going hungry, restaurant owners and grocery stores in Laputta report booming business. UN and relief agency staff and other foreign visitors are good customers.

“Even a small roadside food shop earns about 100,000 kyat ($80) a day,” said a local restaurant owner.

Such an income remains a dream for enterprises that depend on the region’s ruined agriculture and fisheries, however.

Although some official aid has reached the town and a UN Development Programme (UNDP) reconstruction package is promised, farmers, fisheries and salt producers face a long haul ahead. There is talk of granting local authority credits to fishermen, but official confirmation is still awaited.

Some supplies of farmed crabs have been sent to Rangoon, but one Laputta entrepreneur described them as “minimal.”

Fishing nets and boats are expected from the UNDP, which is also said to be prepared to reconstruct damaged piers and bridges.

A UNDP staffer said international agencies that had helped Burma after the 2004 tsunami were still in place and available for post-cyclone reconstruction work.

The crucial agricultural task now was to desalinate fields that had been inundated with sea water, the staffer said. “It may take at least two years to make the soil usable again.”

The authorities had provided ploughs and cattle to two refugee camps near Laputta, but the staffer said the aid was insufficient for farmers waiting to work uncontaminated fields.

Laputta Township’s salt pans will take at least six months to recover from the damage caused by the cyclone, said one salt works owner. A grisly first task would be to remove the bodies which had been preserved in the salt.

There was also a pressing need to recruit new workers to replace those lost in the cyclone, said a salt works owner from Nga Pu Taw Township. “It is a big headache for me.”

The salt pans of the Irrawaddy delta provide seasonal work, performed by casual laborers whose names would not appear on official death lists—an additional administrative problem for one of the hardest-hit industries.

Burma: Than Shwe 'ordered troops to execute villagers'

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor
Times Online

The leader of the Burmese junta, Than Shwe, personally ordered the murder of scores of unarmed villagers and Thai fishermen, according to a senior diplomat and military intelligence officer who defected to America.

Aung Lin Htut, formerly the deputy chief of mission at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, described to a radio station how 81 people, including women and children, were shot and buried on an isolated island after straying into a remote military zone in the southeast of the country in 1998.

After one general hesitated to kill the civilians, fearing that the commander who had given the order was drunk, he was informed that it came from “Aba Gyi” or “Great Father” – the term used to refer to Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the junta.

A few days later troops from the same military base captured a Thai fishing boat that had strayed close to Christie Island in the Mergui Archipelago. The 22 fishermen on board were also shot and buried on the island. “I was a witness to the two incidents in which a total of about 81 people were killed,” Mr Aung Lin Htut, formerly a major in military intelligence, told the Burmese language service of Voice of America. “All of them were unarmed civilians.” In 46 years of military rule in Burma, there have been numerous reports of grave human rights violations but few have been attested by so well placed a source as Mr Aung Lin Htut. They come at a time when General Than Shwe and his regime are coming under scrutiny, after their refusal to allow a full scale relief operation for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

The French Government has said that it comes close to being a “crime against humanity”, and last week Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, called it “criminal neglect”. If a tribunal like the ones established for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia is ever created for Burma, then Mr Aung Lin Htut will doubtless be called to give evidence.

He sought asylum in the US in 2005, along with six members of his family, after a purge against the country’s prime minister and intelligence chief of the time by General Than Shwe destroyed the careers of a generation of intelligence officers. Given the control of information in Burma, his account is impossible to verify. But it has credibility because it is the first time since his defection that Mr Aung Lin Htut has made any public comment on his former masters.

In May 1998 he was stationed on Zadetkyi island, a frontline base close to Burma’s maritime border with Thailand. The commander of the base was Colonel Zaw Min, who is now Minister for Electric Power and general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the junta’s grassroots organisation.

A unit led by the colonel landed on Christie Island and found 59 people living there to gather wood and bamboo, in violation of Burmese law. The order came back from headquarters that they were to be “eliminated”.

Myint Swe, an air force general, said that he was a religious person, and that the matter should be handled delicately. He said that he was very concerned by the timing of the elimination order – just after lunch, a time when General Maung Aye, now the number two in the junta, was usually drunk.

Those who suffer and Those who enjoy by Nagis Cyclone

By Mahorgani

It's really nice to stay here !!

Everything is just perfect..

Nothing was difficult to do aid work...

Such a good generator ! bring it back to army bar....

have to rebuild with whatever we have...

This is school open day ! Which school we have to go then...

No idea what to do !

Nothing but space to sleep

Surviving with makeshift shelter, where is the foreign aid - tent ...

Those who suffer and Those who enjoy by Nagis Cyclone
(I would appreciate it if anyone could translate and share this post around the internet and spread the words please)

Please look these photos thoroughly! ... You can see clearly who is enjoying the things and stuff that came along with international aid agencies. Earlier, they (Army staff and its followers) tried to smuggle these donations out. Then, when it was exposed to the public and not easy to do so, they just keep the donations for themselves and benefit. How much relief and aid works are they doing? He (soldier in picture) is with iron folded uniform and sit back and relax, watching TV, inside the safe and warm shelter of the new donated tent. They don't even have such a chance to rest in their military bar (base).

They (junta staff) even ask the victims to wash their cloths and get water for them? They think victims are coming around to serve them or beg for aid. There are hundreds of tents but not for the cyclone victims. However, if high rank officials and international agencies come down to check the camps, they (soldiers) quickly manage to push in the selected victims inside the tent and force the visitors to witness the "selected victims" displaying what they were taught by the soldiers. Who can argue seeing these photos?

Everything that is happening is different to what the international aiders are expecting or witnessing. The fact is that these aid and donated stuff is really and very useful to them (junta). It seems in fact that the army is provided with international aid instead of the victims.

Herewith we reveal to the international community representing the genuine cyclone victims. They (real cyclone victims) could hardly manage the space to sleep in. Even so, authorities evict them within three days.

That's why.. Let me say it out.

We just try to accept that it's OK even if the cyclone victims receive 10 pieces out of 100 donated by the international community. But in reality, nothing has been handed to the victims. So, please don't send any more food and aid stuff. It seems like things are provided to the army exclusively. They (junta) will torture and oppress as long as they are provided with such a nice food and good materials. If you want to donate and support to the real victims, please

"try to find out the right channel to reach victims out".