Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays

22 June 2008

Ad Hoc Groups Formed In Cyclone's Aftermath, But Causes May Widen

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 21, 2008; A01

RANGOON -- Seven weeks after huge swaths of Burma were savaged by a cyclone and tidal wave, a new and remarkable citizen movement is delivering emergency supplies to survivors neglected by the military government's haphazard relief effort.

The scores of ad hoc Burmese groups, many of them based here in the country's largest city, are not overtly political. But they are reviving a kind of social activism that has been largely repressed by successive military rulers here.

Defying roadblocks and bureaucratic obstruction, volunteers have reached devastated villages in many parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, dropping off food, drinking water and other essentials and bringing back photos that contradict claims in the state media that life is returning to normal.

Some members of the groups say they hope to keep working together when the cyclone damage is finally repaired and turn toward other activities that carry shades of political activism in this tightly controlled state.

With residents' frustration over the official relief effort mounting, pledges of support and donations to the National League for Democracy, the main opposition group in Burma, also called Myanmar, have doubled since the cyclone, according to a student leader of the league.

The storm, which came ashore on the night of May 2-3, killed an estimated 134,000 people and created severe hardship for 2.4 million more. The country's deeply xenophobic junta turned aside many offers of foreign help, agreeing to let in substantial numbers of international aid workers only after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flew to the country May 22 with a personal appeal.

By then, however, homegrown groups were already mobilized, working to offset the tragic shortcomings of the government operation.

Down a street lined with gold and ruby merchants, where dealers charm clients over tiny tables set with tea and chess, employees in the back room of a gem shop one recent morning were swapping evidence: photos of rotten government food handouts.

A week earlier, people in the shops said, more than a dozen local jewelers had loaded 100 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, tarpaulins and blankets onto a truck donated by a supplier and set off at midnight for the storm-ravaged town of Labutta.

They returned with photos of homeless villagers lining up for tins of food at a makeshift camp, a tear-stained boy who, they said, had lost his entire family to the storm's fierce tidal surge, and rotten rice -- yellow, fist-size chunks of it, piled like rocks in bags donated by the government-affiliated Myanmar Red Cross.

"When I saw what they were being fed, I was shaking I was so angry," said a shop assistant, 26, narrating each photo as she passed it to a customer.

The informal organizations are often based on occupation. Artists, doctors, students and the gem dealers have formed separate groups. In other cases, the groups are made up of friends coming together to help.

A 27-year-old lawyer trainee said he and five friends were furious when they tried to distribute supplies around the ruined town of Bogalay about a week after the cyclone but were turned away by local authorities who told them they needed a permit.

"They say they are giving these things to the people, but we know they aren't," he said, pointing at a photo in the state daily newspaper, the Mirror, that showed a relief camp with neat rows of tents and tables laden with food. "We know not to believe them."

In the weeks immediately after the cyclone, a doctor recounted, he closed his private medical clinic for twice-weekly trips to the delta with others. There, they noticed local officials shooing away desperate children, many of them orphaned or suffering storm-related trauma.

So the doctors, four of whom are pediatricians, tried to entertain the children to keep their minds occupied. They held a sanitation workshop after noticing that there were no visible efforts to instruct people in basic hygiene.

"The Ministry of Health is trying, but they're not effective, not organized," the physician said.

Like many other residents, the doctor can't afford to take many more days off work, but he still meets with the group every week. He said he hopes to translate the momentum of its cyclone relief work into other efforts, operating under cover of medicine.

"I'm not political; I'm a community-based activist," the doctor said, when asked how his group could keep working and turn from cyclone relief to other activities, such as organizing debates on health care.

"Now we're seeing the time of civil society. Now thousands of small groups are helping any way they can," said a magazine editor, who pooled funds with other journalists and artists in the hope of purchasing 1,000 shortwave radios so delta survivors could receive uncensored foreign news broadcasts. In the end, the group could afford only 50 but managed to distribute them in villages.

The back page of the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar daily tells readers that "everybody may make donations freely . . . to any person or any area." But nearly a dozen people interviewed offered firsthand or secondhand tales of confiscation or obstruction by local authorities.

A surgeon said he and his group of medical and psychology students were prevented from handing out food at a monastery near the town of Dedaye to about 1,000 refugees who had been sheltering inside. A general there wanted to be seen to hand out the food first, the surgeon said.

A lawyer said he had set out on a relief trip to the delta town of Kyunpangong with five friends, but every box of goods they brought was opened and searched in front of them.

"If I had the chance, I'd occupy the whole delta and put up a sign to the authorities that reads 'Don't come here,' " said a Rangoon monk who is active in medical work. "So many people are waiting to get aid from the government, but they're having to rely instead on private donors."

In five relief expeditions to the delta or ravaged areas around Rangoon, he said, he saw military troops and police patrolling roads or monitoring checkpoints but not once helping survivors.

Since the cyclone, three people have been arrested on charges of taking photographs of the cyclone-ravaged areas and sending them to foreign news sites, and one person for marching to the offices of the U.N. Development Program to complain about government neglect, according to a lawyer monitoring their cases.

Though some private groups are keeping up their relief efforts, others are running out of steam -- and money.

Under monsoon skies one recent afternoon, porters loaded a boat berthed in Rangoon with rattan baskets of cloth, children's pajamas and bags of rice. It was sailing to the delta under the auspices of a prominent Buddhist abbot. On its previous trip, the owners had offered the boat for free. This time, said a monk directing the loading, the owner was charging.

Nearby, in a single-room apartment, 16 current and former university students crowded around a surgeon who was writing notes on a blackboard in preparation for another crack-of-dawn trip to the delta.

Later the surgeon remarked: "I think the government made a huge mistake. If they were seen to care, people would have forgiven them for the past 20 years."


Firsthand tale of Burma relief frustrations

Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

Richard Jacquot describes the cyclone that hit Burma on M... Richard Jacquot points to a place near the township of La...

(06-19) 18:10 PDT -- Nearly two months after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma's Irrawaddy Delta, humanitarian relief groups are still struggling to get government permission to deliver life-saving aid to 2 million survivors, said Richard Jacquot, a San Francisco resident and emergency program manager for Mercy Corps.

In a conversation with The Chronicle, Jacquot, who returned Sunday from a month in Burma, detailed the enormous frustrations and the modest triumphs of helping cyclone victims recover under the watchful eye of an authoritarian regime.

Although Burma's military leaders promised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a month ago that they would admit aid workers of all nationalities, they continue to restrict aid delivery, he said.

The French-born Jacquot has spent 24 years working in some of the hardest-hit war zones and disaster areas on the planet - from Sarajevo to Sudan and Congo to the Kurdish area of Iraq. He managed Hurricane Katrina recovery for Mercy Corps, an Oregon aid agency working in three dozen countries. Trained in international relations and economic development, Jacquot has worked for several humanitarian organizations coordinating emergency food, shelter, water, sanitation and health care.

The risks of providing aid in the midst of a war are manageable compared to the obstacles he confronted trying to deliver aid in Burma, said Jacquot, 58.

"You have to make contact with all the groups ... it's dangerous but you know the players," he said of his experiences in battle zones.

By contrast, in Burma, renamed Myanmar by the governing junta, "there's no rhyme or reason. You don't know why you can go here today and tomorrow you can't," said Jacquot. "It's the way an authoritarian regime works: It puts you off balance. That's the way it controls its population."

Jacquot spent a month in Rangoon, coordinating with colleagues in the delta town of Laputta over government-issued cell phones. He was not permitted to leave the city and they were unable to travel out of the delta. Satellite phones and Internet access was blocked by the government.

Mercy Corps has only been able to operate in Burma because it affiliated itself with a British medical aid group, Merlin, which had already been working in Burma and had a memorandum of understanding with the government to equip health centers in the Irrawaddy Delta. Like other aid groups, Mercy Corps and Merlin have relied heavily on Burmese staff and associates who have been able to move more freely.

The greatest frustration, said Jacquot, was watching millions of dollars worth of aid and hundreds of skilled relief workers stay bottled up in Rangoon while hundreds of thousands of survivors subsist on almost nothing after the May 3 storm, which took an estimated 134,000 lives.

"Imagine Katrina: it was already a pretty difficult challenge for the U.S. to handle," he said. "Now imagine the government has shut the area completely. No one is allowed inside and no aid is allowed to get in. The result is a population that needs assistance and cannot get it."

Mercy Corps and Merlin managed to install three large barges loaded with supplies on rivers in the delta, then used smaller boats to ferry food, plastic sheeting and other materials from the barges to the villages.

Jacquot's team has employed Burmese health workers to serve the remote communities along the rivers and hired local people to drain salt water and clear corpses out of rainwater reservoirs and prepare them to catch the monsoon rains again for drinking water.

Jacquot said he was moved by the ingenuity and initiative of Burmese people in reaching out to their countrymen in spite of government-erected obstacles.

"One of the side effects of a controlling government is that it triggers human creativity," he said. "What is extraordinary there is the response by local organizations. We have to admire them because they are taking a lot of risk."

The United Nations, along with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Burmese government, is conducting a comprehensive disaster assessment to be complete next month. Early reports indicate that a feared wave of disease and death has not materialized. But that doesn't mean that all is well in the Irrawaddy Delta, where families still huddle in shelters with their livestock and scrounge for food and fresh water, said Jacquot.

"The fact that there isn't secondary death doesn't mean they are not suffering," he said. "You hear people say, 'It's amazing how resilient they are.' But what choice do they have?"

Meanwhile, aid workers like Jacquot debate how best to proceed in the face of continuing government resistance to foreign aid.

"Some say providing a little bit of help is better than no help at all, others say we should challenge the government further," said Jacquot, now back in his San Francisco living room. "I don't know the answer but it's a dilemma everybody has to deal with."


Plight of Burmese people

20 June 2008

Gone with the wind,
Countless numbers of lives.

Numb with tears,
This undescribable feeling of pain.

Faced with fear,
The possibility of lost future.

Grappling with darkness,
A chance to see a glimpse of light at the end.


In Hard Times, Pawnshops Thrive

By Aung Thet Wine/ Rangoon
[Source - Irrawaddy]

A 13-year-old student wearing a school blouse and a faded green longyi shyly approached the owner of the Yadana Pawnshop on Moe Kaung Street in eastern Dagon Myothit.

Pale and very thin, the girl slowly removed a packet from her ragged school bag and handed it to the woman pawnbroker, who unfolded a tattered, faded, longyi. She inspected it carefully, before speaking.

"300 kyat [0.40 cents]," she said. The girl’s eyes turned sad.

"Aunty, please give me 500 kyat,” she said. “Today I have to pay school fees."

The pawnbroker looked at the girl and then silently began folding the longyi. Finished, she carefully wrote out a receipt.

Through a small window, she handed the student 500 kyat and a crisp, white receipt.

The girl smiled. She put the kyat and receipt into her school bag and walked outside into the rain. She could remain in school for one more term.

The men and women waiting in the pawnshop had watched the exchange with sympathy. They were also customers with hopes of getting a few kyat to meet their immediate needs. Some needed bus fare to get to work; some needed money for rice; some needed medicine.

Many people in Burma go to pawnbrokers each day now carrying clothes or cooking utensils to pawn for enough money to get through the day. They are mostly day laborers who are paid small salaries at each day’s end. Some would return that evening to buy back whatever they pawned in the morning, only to return in a few days’ time to pawn the object again.

"After Cyclone Nargis, the most pawned items are clothes and cooking utensils,” said a pawnshop owner in Hlaing Tharyar Township. “Mostly women’s longyi and cooking pots. Most people who pawn things are daily wage earners with low living standards or civil servants in low ranks." "

“Every morning, I have to find money for bus fares," a mason from Ward 21 in Hlaing Tharyar Township told The Irrawaddy. He was working regularly at a construction site in downtown Rangoon and had to commute to work.

A pawnbroker with a shop near Insein Market, said: "When the houses collapsed in the cyclone and a lot of people lost their jobs, they turned to the pawnshops. I had roughly 60 to 100 customers before, but now about 200 to 300 people come regularly.”

A civil servant at the Defense Textile Mill said, "Twelve days after I’m paid the money runs out, and then I have to run to the pawnshop for daily food.”

Pawnshops are among the most successful businesses in Rangoon, according to an official at the Yangon Municipal Committee. He said Rangoon had 137 registered pawnshops in 2000-2001; 169 in 2001-2002; 162 from 2002-2004; 189 in 2004-2005; 214 in 2005-2006; 250 in 2006-2007; and 256 pawnshops in 2008.

A pawnshop owner must bid for a registration license. Owners say the winners are those who pay the largest bribes.

"The license fee is 5 million kyat [about US $4,237] and the bribe is 2 million kyat [$1,695], so totally it costs about 7 million kyat [$5,929] for a license," said a pawnbroker in Hlaing Tharyar Township.

The license fee varies in each township, rising to around 8 million kyat [$6,776] for a downtown township location, according to owners.

Pawnshop owners say you need about 200 million kyat [$169,500] to start a top-line pawnshop, which essentially functions as a small loan business. Many unlicensed pawnshops are springing up, they say, drawing many regular customers away from registered pawnshops.

But for now—with the Burmese economy reeling from the cyclone’s impact and more people out of work—pawnshops everywhere are thriving with customers trying to get through one more day in a life of unrelieved hardship.


The Imprisoned Voice of Freedom

By Kyaw Zwa Moe
[Source - Irrawaddy]

Everyone knows where Aung San Suu Kyi is spending her 63rd birthday today. But as millions of her supporters around the world mark the occasion, no one can say when she will be released from the family home that has been her prison for most of the past 19 years.

I still remember a conversation I had with Suu Kyi in late 1999, during one of her brief interludes of freedom. We met at the Rangoon headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Two youth members of the NLD were also there. We discussed politics and our experiences as political prisoners, as well as our plans for our future education.

I can clearly recall her sobering advice at that time: that we should be prepared for a “lifelong struggle” to restore democracy to Burma.

It already feels like a lifetime has passed since then.

A few months after I met her, she was put under house arrest again. Today, almost a decade later, she is still in detention. She has been a prisoner for nearly 13 of the past 19 years.

On May 27, five years after she was taken into custody following the infamous Depayin massacre that left many of her followers dead, her detention was extended again.

When she will be released is as uncertain as the future of Burma itself. After 46 years of iron-fisted military rule, Burma seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse. No one knows when the next crisis will strike. But one thing seems certain: The fate of Burma and its most famous prisoner of conscience are inextricably intertwined.

For the moment, the junta still holds the reins. And that means that Suu Kyi will probably not see freedom before 2010, when the regime plans to hold an election that it has no intention of losing. By that time, she will be 65 years old—twenty years older than she was when her party delivered the junta a humiliating defeat in the country’s last general election.

The regime never honored the results of the 1990 election, but it is expected to welcome the outcome of the 2010 vote. As in the constitutional referendum held in May, the junta’s victory is guaranteed.

The draft constitution, which was supposedly supported by 92 percent of the population, sets aside 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military appointees. It is also highly likely that the regime will form a political party and field candidates with strong military backing.

If the junta can achieve its goal of rewriting history—erasing the two decades that it has ruled as a reviled and illegitimate regime and starting afresh with an electoral and constitutional mandate, however dubious—it may see fit to release Suu Kyi.

But this is far from certain. The regime knows from past experience that Suu Kyi’s influence is not easily eclipsed.

When she was released from her first six-year period of house arrest in 1995, crowds flocked to her home each Saturday to hear her speak. Her talks on political subjects threatened to revive the people’s democratic aspirations, and so she was once again removed from the public eye.

In 2002, Suu Kyi was released again. Sure enough, her magnetism proved to be undiminished. Her travels around the country attracted immense attention.

Desperate to contain her popular appeal, the regime masterminded an attack on her motorcade in Depayin, Sagaing Division, on May 30, 2003. She survived the carefully orchestrated assault, but many of her supporters did not.

Even after the regime had shown the extent to which it was willing to go to remove her from Burma’s political equation, Suu Kyi remained firmly committed to dialogue.

In an article written several years later, Razali Ismail, the former United Nations envoy to Burma, recounted a conversation he had with Suu Kyi a few days after the Depayin incident: “She said that she was prepared to turn the page for the sake of the people and reconciliation, saying she was still prepared to talk to the government.”

It is almost bizarre, in light of such evidence of Suu Kyi’s willingness to forgive the regime for the many indignities that it has inflicted upon her over the past two decades, to listen to charges that she has been inflexible in her dealings with the ruling generals.

There are even some who ask if her unwavering principles, determination and courage have become political liabilities for Burma. They seem to imply that the country would be better off with an opposition leader who didn’t make the regime look so nasty and brutish by contrast.

Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters have commented that she has the power to bring out the best in people. Is it possible that she also brings out the worst in her opponents? But it seems almost grotesquely unfair to suggest that she’s to blame for the junta’s poor public image.

What makes Suu Kyi so appealing to many, and so appalling to some, is that she speaks the simple truth. She disarms people with her candor. But the generals know that lies are all they have, so they continue to attack her.

Not everyone who criticizes Suu Kyi is attacking her. But what some of her critics have in common with the regime is that they tend to ignore the facts in favor of a view which suggests that Burma is a permanent basket case, with or without military rule.

Some say that Suu Kyi’s Burman ethnicity, which she shares with most of the ruling generals, makes her equally unfit to rule a country as ethnically diverse as Burma. She herself has never shied away from the complex issue of ethnic politics. Indeed, she has always been clear that talks with the regime should include representatives of Burma’s many ethnic minorities.

Suu Kyi has never spoken of the ethnic issue as if it were a secondary matter, although her energies have always been directed primarily at restoring democracy. Far from treating the ethnic issue as unimportant, she has always envisioned democracy as a means of addressing the legitimate aspirations of various ethnic groups.

In this, she is worlds apart from both the junta and many so-called “Burma experts.” While the regime believes that force is the only way to hold the country together, some academics argue that the country is doomed to fall apart. Suu Kyi rejects both militarism and pessimism as political dead ends.

Is Suu Kyi guilty, then, of unfounded optimism about the future of Burma? Not at all.

In 1990, the NLD won over 80 percent of the seats in parliament. Even more significantly, the party’s support was strong not only in Burman-dominated cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay, but also in ethnic states.

In eastern Karen State, the NLD won 71 percent of seats; in northern Kachin State, it took 73 percent. Southeastern Mon State gave the party 80 percent support. In Shan State, the NLD won over 39 percent, while in Karenni State it won 50 percent. In western Arakan and Chin states, it won over 34 and 30 percent, respectively.

What does this prove? That Burma’s people, regardless of ethnicity, want democracy and see it as a means of improving their lives. That was true in 1990, and it is true today.

But Suu Kyi’s appeal has never been based on false promises, so the people of Burma also know that even if they get what they want most—freedom from a brutal dictatorship—there will still be challenges ahead.

Nearly a decade ago, Suu Kyi warned me that the road ahead would not be easy. Perhaps it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. But now her words ring truer than ever, even though the voice that spoke them has been silenced—for how long, nobody knows.


More local aid workers arrested

Source: Irrawaddy

Recently, a local volunteer group made headlines when they started collecting the bodies of the Cyclone Nargis victims and gave them a decent burial in a plot of land they had purchased for this purpose. On 14th June, 7 of these volunteers were detained by the government. Out of these 7, 5 of them belong to a group called All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU).

Those detained include the Myanmar Tribune publishers U Aung Kyaw San and Dr Nay Win as well as ABSU leaders Ko Lin Htet Naing, Ma Hnin Pwint Wai, and Ko Hein Yazar Tun.

One aid worker told Irrawaddy: "They were detained at a checkpoint on our return trip from Bogale to Pyapon. We heard that the detainees were transferred to Yangon. There were about 16 people in the truck but the driver and some other people were allowed to go home."

For security reasons, ABFSU members have been in hiding since September's Saffron Revolution. However, they have been actively involved relief work since Cyclone Nargis hit the Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in early May.

Since the beginning of June, junta has detained over 20 prominent aid workers without any valid reasons. Those under detention include comedian Zarganar and Sports Editor Zaw Thet Htwe.

A spokesman from ABFSU told Irrawaddy,
"(The Junta is angry for several reasons.) For one, they are not getting as much funds as they want from the International Community. Secondly, news continue to leak out even though they are trying hard to control the media. The fact that private aid workers are getting things done while they cant, it is making them lose face. So of course, they take it out on the local aid workers."

Original article:


Detention of private aid workers

16 June 2008

Sources: Myo Chit Myanmar & Irrawaddy

One of the most active private donor groups have stopped distributing aid after two of its leaders were detained. The group, led by comedian-philanthropist Zarganar and Sports Editor Zaw Thet Htwe, said they will stop distributing aid for the time being.

Meanwhile, three other private aid workers were detained last thursday when they went to a pre-arranged meeting with a monk who had asked for donation items. A family member said the authorities searched the houses of one of the detainees and asked the family to produce receipts and other documents related to aid work.

The reason for detention remains unclear.

Reference Articles:


Time to ask Ourselves

14 June 2008

The latest news at Mizzima titled "Journalist helping cyclone victims arrested" says:

The crackdown by the Burmese military junta continues unabated, It arrested a journalist, who has been helping Cyclone Nargis victims in Irrawaddy delta this morning, according to sources.

Zaw Thet Htwe, the former Editor-in Chief of First Eleven Sports journal was arrested by the Special Branch of the police this morning.
Another news from Mizzima titled "Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery" says:
The Burmese military junta authorities sealed a pro-opposition Buddhist monastery in Rangoon yesterday.

The township chairman and security forces arrived at the Sasana Theikpan monastery compound of Chauk Htut Gyi pagoda, Bahan Township on Friday morning and told monks they would close the monastery until an official announcement by the new head of monastery was made.
A few days ago, I read Irrawaddy's interview with a popular Burmese comedian, Zarganar. A couple of days later, I read another news about him being detained for questioning without any valid explanation.

Ban-Ki Moon has come and gone. Than Shwe has fulfilled a tiny fraction of his promise to Ban-Ki Moon by minutely increasing the number of visas issued to aid workers.

US and French warships have returned to their respective countries. Many people expressed disbelief and disappointment at the junta's refusal of aid from those warships. Words of condemnation and even pleas failed to reach out to Than Shwe.

A group of good Samaritans bought a plot of land out of their own money and selflessly went through the sites to find the decomposed bodies and buried them. [Source - Moetheezun's blog]

Other individuals pull together whatever resources they can find to help the cyclone victims. Whenever they talk to the victims, the same stories surface. No visible aid has come from SPDC and the meager rations handed out by the SPDC can hardly sustain for the survival of the victims. Many victims still live in precarious conditions making them vulnerable to contracting diseases and dying from malnutrition. Sometimes, the victims are even subjected to abuse by SPDC's lackeys for not following orders.

After reading all those news in the media depicting the current situations of Burma, I was prostrate with frustration and sadness. Though there is currently no immediate evidence of casualty tantamount to a genocide, waves after waves of repressions by Junta over many decades (since Ne Win took over the power in Burma) have undeniably caused a series of damages equivalent to such.

With more natural disasters and problems happening in the world, the plight of Burmese people may soon be forgotten by many people. Such is an inevitable truth. Hence, I sincerely hope that everyone will see how we need to do whatever we can within our own means to bring the light to the people of Burma. There must come a day when Burma will be known for its natural beauty and mesmerizing culture rather than the devastating and frustrating news like what is happening now.

It is time to ask ourselves .....
What can we do to free Burma?
How will we do what we can do for Burma?
How effective are our actions for Burma?
Until when will we do what we can do for Burma?

And most importantly, we must remember that everyone has a role to play. No matter how tiny it might be.


The real reason behind visa delays

08 June 2008

Source: MMEd Watch

MMEDWatch reported that embassies have been instructed by higher authorities to limit the number of visas issued per week. Sources told MMEDWatch that there were no hard and fast rules on who is allowed entry. For instance, a volunteer was denied visa while an analyst (who supposedly poses more of a threat to Junta) was granted visa.

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.


Homeless cyclone survivors now face monsoon

Published Date: 08 June 2008
By Pat Wilde
[Source - ScotlandonSunday]

A SEVERE shortage of housing has left hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in Burma exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season begins.

The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned there was an "urgent need" for tarpaulins to provide the estimated 1.5 million homeless survivors with temporary shelter. Otherwise, they warned, the threat of hunger and disease could intensify.

"Exposure to the elements five weeks after a disaster of this magnitude has to be a major concern," said John Sparrow, a spokesman for the IFRC. "People are in a weakened condition. They are sick, they are hungry. Without shelter, their whole situation is seriously exacerbated."

The UN estimates a total of 2.4 million people were affected when Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2 to 3, and warns that more than one million of those still need help, mostly in the hard-to-reach Irrawaddy delta.

UN officials and aid groups have criticised the regime for hindering access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors.

The top UN humanitarian official said in New York there were now "relatively few people" who have not received any sort of help, but "this aid effort needs to be stepped up further".

"I think people are getting to all the main places, although it's not always as easy as it should be," John Holmes said. "There's no evidence of starvation at the moment, although, as I say, many people are still in significant need of aid."

The UN has said access could be greatly improved if the country's military junta would accept American offers of support, which include the use of 22 military helicopters.

The USS Essex group, which includes four ships, 5,000 US military personnel and the helicopters, on Thursday abandoned plans to deliver aid to the delta after repeated efforts to broker a compromise with the junta failed.

The US military, however, said it was keeping 22 helicopters on standby in case Burma's ruling junta reverses its rejection of such help for cyclone victims, saying the aircraft could reach survivors within three days.

With only seven Burmese government helicopters reportedly flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce and efforts to import vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.

"Of the 1 million or 1.5 million people in need of relief support, we think that between 450,000 and 750,000 are in emergency need," said Lt Gen John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the US relief operation for Burma.

They could be reached "over the course of a three-day period" by American helicopters and landing craft, he said in a telephone interview from a temporary US staging area at Utapao, Thailand.

Goodman said the junta was "still considering" the offer, which would include allowing Burma officials aboard all US helicopters to monitor their routes and to unload relief.

The military leaders are particularly reluctant to allow US helicopters into the delta, given that Washington has been a leading critic of the junta for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand power to a democratically elected government.


Those who suffer and Those who enjoy by Nagis Cyclone

06 June 2008

When I read this blog post written by one fellow Burmese, living inside the troubled country, deeply touched and I feel exactly what s/he does. And I started to type and translate to English as s/he requested .

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 be much appreciate if anyone could translate and share this post around the internet and spread the words)

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

How dare they ask victims to wash their cloths and get water for them? They think victims are coming around to serve them and beg for. There are hundreds of tents but not for cyclone victims. However, if high rank officials and international agencies come down to see camps, they quickly manage to push in the selected victims inside the tent and force them to witness what they taught. Who can argue seeing these photos?

Everything is happening different with what international expected. The fact is that these aid and donated stuffs are really useful for them. It seems exactly like army was provided by international aid. Herewith we revealed to the international community representing the genuine cyclone victims. They could hardly manage for 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 victims receive 10 pieces out of 100 donated by international community. But in reality, nothing was handed to victims. So, Please don't send any more food and aid stuffs. It seems like things are provided to army exclusively. They 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.

( Remark by translator- There are many volunteer groups , reaching directly to the devastated area. Cyclone relief is one of them.)


Change We Believe In

05 June 2008

In recent days, I used to hear success stories and news of those I have been following.

Being a loyal fan of Red devils, the name given by media to Manchester United Footballers, I feel astonishingly terrific for winning two major trophies in 2007-2008 season: Premiership Trophy and Champions League Trophy. I had never missed a match of every Premiership soccer matches played by Man U in this season. During Champions League Final, I watched until 5am till the end of deadly penalty kick out and award presenting ceremony. I recalled I had to get up again at 8am to go to work with red and sleepy eyes. Man U Football Club is made up of many talented youth players and they deserve more victories in years to come.

The world renowned American Idol Programme was just over and the winner was David Cook whom my wife and I had been supporting. My favourite songs by David Cook were "Hello", pop song by Lionel Richie, "I don't wanna miss a thing", rock song by Aerosmith and "Hero", a duet song with runner-up David Archuleta. It is originally a soundtrack by Chad Kroeger from blockbuster Spiderman movie. Despite not winning American the Idol, Kristy Lee was the one who sang the song I like most, "God Bless USA", in this year programme. It is about a US civilian being proud of heroes who fight for human rights, freedom and Independence of America. While others are proud of their accomplishments, we Burmese are losing face in International Community because of our inhumane government.

Democrats and Republicans have finally come out with their candidates for upcoming US presidential election. John McCain, a 71 years old Vietnam War veteran, was emerged as the presidential candidate for Republican Party. Democrats' candidate, Barack Obama, an African American senator, is the one I admire and support in this general election. He defeated his rival, Hilary Clinton, the former first lady of US, after their tough battles for five consecutive months. It is very likely he may also overcome his opponent of Republican, John McCain, in the forthcoming presidential election in this year end. The phrase from his inspirational speech of 2004 election campaign exclaims, "There is no liberal America. There is no conservative America. There is only United States of America." The slogan of the election campaign led by Obama is "Change We Believe In". Certainly, Americans are ready for change to disastrous policies of Bush administration.

Being a faithful supporter of our national leader, Daw Aung San Su Kyi, I am eager to make ourselves ready for change to let her take a leadership role in Burmese Government. I sincerely hope and suppose we are going to see her victory against dictators soon before the end of 2008. Her supporters are not divided by fans of Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. Her followers are not divided by admirers of David Cook, David Archuleta or Jason. Her devotees are not divided by supporters of McCain, Hilary or Obama. Apart from those who fear to lose power and suppress the people, all of us are supporting Daw Su exclusively for her bravery and love towards the people of Burma. Whatever it is, the only unchanged universal truth is the Change in this Changing World. Last but not least, the change we believe in is the change of Democratic Burma from the foolish tyranny.

Nyi Nyi (Thanlwin)


Zarganar detained (again)

Source: Myo Chit Myanmar

Comedian-cum-volunteer Zarganar was detained last night at 8pm. A group of about 10 special agents and Town Council members visited his home, and mounted a search for over 3 hours. At about 11pm, they took him away on the pretext of questioning, along with some items they found in his home.

Zarganar has been very active in distributing aid to the cylone survivors. He recently gave an interview with the BBC in which he dismissed Junta's claim of survivors being self-sufficient.

The agents reportedly told Zarganar's family not to inform any news agencies of his arrest, and that he would be released after questioning.

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.


Prayer sessions being held in Yangon

03 June 2008


This afternoon at about 1pm, a crowd of 1400 monks and about 500 people gathered at ShweNyarWah Monastery to hold a prayer session for the cyclone victims. After the session, they plan to take a pilgrimage around the city and chant prayers.

The monastery (and the participants) were surrounded by the army as the news was being reported.


Interview with Burmese famous comedian Zaganar

02 June 2008

This is the interview of Irrawaddy Online Magazine and Myanmar famous comedian” Zaganar

He was jailed many times in Myanmar prison of his political jokes and tortured by military government. Once he lost all his teeth because he was hit in the prison. Now he and some movie stars are helping cyclone refugees in delta area despite of military government’s disturbance. He is very true to Burma.

Q: Ok, let’s talk about from starting until now (31-5-08) what is going on there?

A: We are on the doing since May 7 till this morning. We‘ve been everywhere and every places expect of Ngapudaw, but our men have already reached there. And then we’ve been to other 42 villages where no one ever been there, which is in the Daedayae’ region, a group of three big villages of paddy warehouses and purchasing deports. And then we’ve been another group of three villages in Bogalay region, 42 villages. They haven’t get any aids,not only government’s but also UN’s and NGO’s.

Q: In there what are the things exactly you found out, how many peoples are died, what they’re needing,how big is the destroyed.

A:I can give you an example, there are a thousand homes in Mangae gyi region,700 homes are all disappeared,only about 300 homes, some have floor and some have pillers,221 died and more than 300 are still missing.

Until 22nd May, there are a lot of dead bodies in the creeks, the villagers got 7cans(about 7 cooking cups of rice given by government and a small packet of dried instant noodle, nothing more than that, that was 20 days after cyclone.

At 28th May, we went to the villages named Tin maung chaung, Kyain suu, Htate chaung gyi, Kan suu, Shwe bo suu from the Bogalay. Everyone there haven’t got any aids, nobody been there yet, no cloths on, all children are nicked.

There are altogether 542 families …they‘ve lose their houses .They stay at a place of small pagoda, named Ah Kyut Ah loot. This pagoda is broken by half. They all sleep there squeezed. There‘s no UN, no NGO, no aids. We’re the very first group, we gave them food and others as much as we could. The worse is they don’t have drinking water. The wells are full of bodies. So that they collect the raining water and drink. So we brought 10000 water bottles (20 lits per bottle)

Q: Haven’t they got the aids from government, given by international groups yet?

A: There are only at Lutpoottar and Bogalay, they have a few tents ,4 or 5 per tent , they can eat rice, but very a few tents .Those who are at villages got nothing.

Q: UN said, there are 25% of aids reached there. Is that right?

A: That’s right, definitely. The aids are reached to the villages a little only. There are still islands and villages. Nobody come and bring to a certain places, no transportation, only by small boat. There are lot survivors there.

I want to tell you a sad story. She is very old lady of 11 family members including her. All the other 10 died in cyclone, she is alone now. But she didn’t know they all gone. She even didn’t recognized herself. There are a lot people like that. They are going to be insane, this is a fishing village.

Q: How many more people like that and what are their condition overall?

A: There are three types of peoples; one is very angry and sensitive. They won’t listen anything , all the time they are angry and been rough. The second is kind of sober. They are crying all the time. And the next is a kind of mute , no talk, no movement.

We went and gave rice 10kg per person, beans, blanket and mosquito nets to everybody. They didn’t even take, they have no interested. They said they want to die.

Q: Did you ever see any government’s aids there?

A: No…not at all….just 7 cups of rice and a packet of Mama dried noodles as I said, that was 28th May, until we arrived there.

Q: How do you bring the things there? By small boats?
A: yeah…by small boats.

Q:Just like your group, as other self motivated donor, how much they can do within limitation?

A: At first we forced to let us go in to the places. We faced a bit difficulties against them, for example..They (authorities) asked me, “why you go without permission…you must report us…blur.. blur…”So we talked to them nicely and they said that “we don’t care if you’re in danger”. So I said “we don’t care even we die”
Something like that..

Later after an order out by National Disaster Prevention group, they don’t interfered so much then. “It is good to go the places of difficult transportation and self motivated group can donate as they wish “in that order.

After that order, the traders of the Chinatown and the gold smiths of the Mogol Street are doing some helps out. So the refugees can get more. If they can not go to the far places, we go for them. For example... Bogalay, the donors leave the things at city...We all (film stars) bring t the things o the villages. We have altogether 420 peoples in our groups. We separated to the small groups and go to the different places.

Q: that day in the New light of Myanmar newspaper, they said people can eat frogs and fishes and the delta in the next year will be full of golden paddy fields, It is that so?

A: Ha ..ha…the dream is so good…hee hee..i don’t know weather they can find frogs or fishes, we name the Irrawaddy river and Bogalay river water color is Nargis color, you know why?...the color is whitsh gray….there are many bodies of human, cows and buffalos …some more we call it Nargis flavor…extremely bad….after we come back..this smell follow us .No one can stand it…we all vomit…So who can find the frogs and fishes…better eat the bodies….

Q: how about the bodies? Haven’t they buried them?

A: They even never collected…still in the river. We come back from Bogalay at 28th May. We went to 5-villages. We even could not take photos and videos because too many bodies, at least 40 bodies after the villagers buried more than one thousand bodies. Some donors bring 80 pieces of burning machines and burned. They are from AZG and Christian Missionaries.

Q: How about the Karen tribes who stayed there? Are they most populated?
A: There are many Karen villages in Bogalay and Daydayae distrait, most of them are Christians, and I like them. When we arrived there they come and help us. They have been bringing back to Yangon and do the counseling for them. They will lead reconstructing of the villages.
Firstly they’ve got the construction materials and foods; secondly, today they were giving the vegetable seeds such as watercress, amaranth and Roselle, and then fertilizers which can be used at any type of soil. And they were taught how to use it.

Q: Do you think they can restart the cultivation?

A: Rice cannot…..only some kind of vegetables. They start today …the villagers were taught by the experts.

Q: I heard that they never get aids because they are Karen tribes, is that so?
A: Not only Karen but also Burmese.., nobody got aids. There are only 15 days left to do cultivation paddy fields .Now we discuss with big business companies and Thai technicians to buy the cultivating machines, called “golden buffalo” .It can be finished an acre within half day by using this machine.One machine costs 1.4 millions kyats(1000 US $).We start from ‘kyunn nyo gyi’ township as main region. There are 5514 peoples in this region, 3200 men are able to work .We tried to repair the soil with the help of a Thai technician. Now we can start to cultivate if we got the 18 machines. We have only 10, we still need 8 more machines.

Q: We heard that the health and rescue teams from the neibourhood countries are coming to this area. Did they arrived?

A: No I didn’t see any team, only a Thai woman to research the soil comes together with us. Yesterday she went back to Thai, and she would be right back on Saturday. We will know whether we can cultivate within 15 days or not.

Q: Is it any aids from the northern and upper Burma?

A: Yeah , lately many, for example many big container trucks from ‘Nammatee,Myitkyeenar,Lasho’ came with 200 tanks of cooking oils .They came together with Christian missionaries , altogether 10 container trucks, they are Shan tribes, we just met with them.

Q: how about Yangon?

A: we have to go there as well. This morning we went to the ‘Dala’,’Kunchan gone’,and ‘Nyaung wai ‘which is next river bank to ‘Kyee myin dai’.Ther are not as desperate as Delta. But they lost their homes. We help them too. They still ok (sound mind.)

Q: What you want to talk about foreign groups?

A: There are still many things which are beyond our control .The persons from foreign countries can help lot things such as to rebuild the destroyed villages as soon as possible. For example, at the time of Tsunami, the technicians are arrived and build the houses .We can’t afford it. We are not rich. We also heard that Bill Gate came out with some helps, we have no idea where the aids are going ended?

It won’t cost to build a small house. We hope the internationals come and build for the villages.

We dissatisfied UN. They can’t do anything for us. There are no UN people go to the villages which we’ve gone. They care about the authorities, I don’t like them. To save the poor people, do you need to care them? They even can pass the aids to the people who were going there. There are 4 or 5 groups like us. They just send the things to the some governmental offices. For what?

Q: how about people are starting begging?

A:Off course they are hungry. Who can take it? Don’t you think so? They are really starving.

Q: US said they want to help with some small boats which can go both in water and on the ground .This kind of boats are really can go far. But now almost one month, do you think it still need?

A: Definitely need. We gave them the radios to listen to what the world said; they are hoping and happy to wait for the aids such as ships from American, France and England. Now their hopes are all gone already, they are very very sorrow. They asked me ‘don’t they really come? They don’t really care us? How can we wait for our last minute of life? All the grannies and children are cried.