One year after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar: struggle remains
It has been one year since Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, where about 140,000 people died, thousands of structures were destroyed, and peoples' lives were changed forever. One year later and people are still living in makeshift shelters and the once prosperous paddy fields remain bare.
"Everybody lives on food handouts and most of us don't have decent shelter or a job," Ba Thin, 72, said, pointing to the bamboo, thatch and tarpaulin huts lining the road through his village near Bogalay, an area devastated by the May 2-3 storm.
The paddy fields have yet to recover from the extensive water damage fromt he Irrawaddy Delta and the farmers who used to rely on the rice crops now have no way of making a living.
If they do not get help they will not make it through this season. The farmers that could grow so rice will have to sell what they have at a low price as they have so many debts and they have to make whatever money they can.
"The biggest problem for the people down in these parts is they haven't been able to maintain an income flow," Chris Kaye, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told Reuters during a recent visit to the delta.
The WFP has issued a call for aid, as the monsoon season is only weeks away and the people need shelter and food assistance.
It is estimated that about 500,000 survivors of Nargis, 200,000 of them children still live in makeshift shelters, but due to the recent economic crisis, the $691 million recovery plan that was put in place last year is struggling to receive their funds and Myanmar has already received less than other poor countries due to the fact that it has such a poor human rights record.
Many people do not have access to clean drinking water either.
"We now have to depend on a local NGO or water sellers from the north for our daily drinking water," Tin Aye from Pathee Wai Chaung Village told Reuters.
Foreign aid workers are allowed in the country, after a fight to get in at the beginning, as the government did not want foreign countries to have access to their land and people. The aid workers say there has been some progress in the last year, but due to the recent arrests of activists who were appealing for more private aid, the government has now put much more restrictions on foreign aid workers. There is also an election coming up in 2010.
Mark Canning, the British Ambassador to Myanmar, said he hoped the humanitarian work and access for aid workers would continue, "but we think it's going to be quite constrained in the period coming up to the election".
At the moment, the people living there just want a better chance at a day to day existence, and see what happens from there.