Cyclone Giri Photos

Relief Efforts Slow to Reach Arakan's Devastated Coast

Posted by ေက်ာက္ၿဖဴသားေခ် Saturday, 30 October 2010

“The whole town looks like a garbage dump—many streets are still blocked by debris,” said Tun Naing, a local relief volunteer helping the victims of Cyclone Giri in Myebon township, one of the hardest-hit townships on the west coast of Burma.
“People still desperately need tarpaulins and rice,” he said, adding that his organization has only been able to give five small tins of rice to each person.

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Seven days have passed since category four of Cyclone Giri ravaged the worst hit areas in the islands off Arakan State with winds of up to 120 miles [190 kilometers] per hour.The confirmed death toll from the cyclone stands at 45, and about 15,000 houses have been destroyed rendering more than 70,000 people homeless, according to the latest UN report citing government sources.
Local relief groups said the victims were not getting enough aid since the government has downplayed the death toll and the scale of the destruction, however.
State-controlled media has put the death toll at 27, but local relief groups said the real figure was already more than 100 people on Thursday.
They said thousands of victims are still living in monasteries and emergency shelters in Kyaukpyu, Pauktaw, Minbya and Myebon, the worst hit townships on the islands off the Arakan coast.
Access to the islands has been very difficult, and concern is mounting that help may not reach the victims, local sources said, adding that the government has banned local journalists from taking photographs and that coverage of the disaster by the media has been minimal.
“People from villages that were completely destroyed are coming to town for food handouts,” said a Buddhist monk in Aung Mingalar monastery in Myebon Township. “Drinking water is scarce and we are using bamboo ducts to try and get water from nearby hillsides.”
Local groups are taking a leading role in the relief efforts as they had to during the Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 130,000 people in the Irrawaddy Delta in May, 2008. 
“We have sent 20,000 dollars worth of rice to the victims,” said an official of an Arakan Welfare Group in Rangoon. “We have already sent 200 bags of rice and are going to send 500 more.”
Though storms and cyclones are common occurrences for Arakan's coastal residents who make their living by fishing and farming, Cyclone Giri's powerful winds brought surges of water 12 feet deep.
Having lost their fishing nets and their crops in the cyclone, some residents are considering abandoning the islands for good, Tun Naing said.
Although the government has reportedly not yet allowed NGOs to send international staff to affected areas, there has been no major complaint about government interference in the relief efforts.
“We are working with the Myanmar Red Cross which works in close collaboration with the government, but so far we haven't had any problems,” said Chang Hun Choe, the program coordinator of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society in Rangoon. 
The cyclone came just two weeks before the country's first elections in 20 years and is the worst natural disaster to hit Burma since Cyclone Nargis.
A few days after Cyclone Giri, the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP), a major opposition party contesting the election in Arakan State, sent a letter to the Election Commission calling for a postponement of the Nov. 7 election in three townships devastated by the cyclone, but have yet to receive a response.
“The conditions are terrible—we cannot expect them to participate in an election before we have taken care of their humanitarian needs,” said Aye Maung, the RNDP chairman, adding that the government should be transparent about the impact of the cyclone.

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