Burmese junta still shuns survivors of the cyclone

On the anniversary of the Burmese cyclone, more than a hundred thousand survivors are still living in makeshift shelters hopelessly inadequate to the monsoon rains that will soon engulf the country.

But despite the population's desperate need, the ruling junta has now tightened regulations to make it harder for aid workers to get visas.

A year after the devastating Cyclone Nargis tore through the Burmese Delta leaving up to 140,000 people dead and further exposing the disregard and inefficiency of the country's military rulers, half a million of those who are still alive continue to depend on hand-outs just to survive.

"There is a lot of concern about shelter," said Chris Kaye, the country director of the World Food Programme. "Around 130,000 families do not have an adequate place to live."

With rice yields down nearly a third due to the increased salinity of the paddy fields and with a severe shortage of drinking water, aid groups warn that hundreds of millions of pounds will be required in the coming months and years to rebuild the region's battered infrastructure, provide people with livelihoods and help treat widespread psychological trauma.

A quarter of a million people will likely have to be fed by aid groups until the end of the year.

"It's getting better, we are making some progress. But there is still a hell of a lot of work to do," said Mr Kaye. "We are still feeding 350,000 people. We had hoped to phase out by now but we are still going to be there until the end of the year."

The concern is pressing. With monsoon rains just weeks away and 200,000 children – many of them orphans – among the 500,000 survivors still living under hastily-constructed huts of bamboo and tarpaulin, aid groups say the need for action is urgent.

The so-called Tripartite Core Group (TCG), comprising the United Nations, Burma and its South-east Asian neighbours, has drafted a plan requiring $691m (£470m).

But the problems facing the beleaguered people of Burma are not just those caused by the fury of Cyclone Nargis's 130mph winds and the surging 12ft wall of water they created.

Campaigners say that the authoritarian regime, hidden away in its remote jungle capital, is continuing to imprison people simply for trying to help those affected by the storm.

They also point to the regime's recent decision to return to the more stringent visa system that applied before the disaster struck.

"Basic freedoms for cyclone survivors are just as restricted as they were before the cyclone," said Elaine Pearson, from Human Rights Watch.

"Donors and friends of the military government, such as China, should press Burma's generals to free activists like Zargana who helped the survivors."

Zargana, one of the country's most popular comedians, helped organise hundreds of volunteers to collect and distribute aid to the affected.

Despite years of oppression and with many in Burma fearing the presence of informers, countless ordinary people got together to gather rice and cooking oil. But after criticising the response of the so-called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta terms itself, the comedian was arrested and jailed for 35 years. He is now held in a prison far from his family and said to have fallen into poor heath. Zargana is one of 21 still in prison for such community organising.

Many believe the crackdown was part of a broader effort to jail dissidents ahead of elections due to be held next year but which have already been boycotted by the imprisoned Aung Sang Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition. In addition to the aid organisers, the junta last year jailed scores of activists who had taken part in democracy demonstrations during the summer of 2007 and later that year when the protests were joined by thousands of Buddhist monks.

For many in the Delta, a fringe of land where the Irawaddy river pours into the Andaman Sea, democratic rights are a less pressing need than clean drinking water.

The flooding caused by Nargis, which drove sea water miles inland, polluted many wells. "We now have to depend on a local NGO or water sellers from the north for our daily drinking water," Tin Aye, a villager from Pathee Wai Chaung, told Reuters.

Another villager, Ba Thin, 72, who lives near the town of Bogale, which suffered some of the worst devastation, pointed to the bamboo, thatch and tarpaulin huts lining the road.

"Everybody lives on food handouts and most of us don't have decent shelter or a job," he said. "Without help, almost all of us will not be able to grow anything in the coming crop season."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas