Myanmar: Life is still a struggle six months after the cyclone

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Six months after Cyclone Nargis, inhabitants of the devastated regions of Burma are still struggling to survive, with many reliant on relief supplies from such aid organizations as the UN World Food Programme, Médecins sans Frontières and Save the Children.

A different picture is presented by the regime, which claims the Irrawaddy Delta and areas of Rangoon Division hit by last May's cyclone is in a phase of "reconstruction."

A cyclone Nargis survivor returns to his village with blankets and other recovery items donated by Myanmar Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (Photo: Reuters)

One Laputta resident, Aye Kyu, said the daily task of finding food kept cyclone survivors from rebuilding their homes. Local donors, such as Buddhist monks and businesspeople, had stopped distributing aid, he said.

A doctor said many people among about 400 survivors forced by the authorities to settle in temporary accommodation in Paneng Taung and Mawgon villages after refusing to return to their cyclone-destroyed homes were suffering from malnutrition.

The Tripartite Core Group (TCG), the humanitarian assistance task force comprising Asean, the UN and the Burmese government, said in a press statement on Sunday that although some aspects of life had returned to normal, "challenges remain."

Kyaw Thu, Burma's Deputy Foreign Minister and TCG Chairman, said in the press release: "Children are back in school, people are working again, the rice crop is due for harvesting shortly, and transport and health facilities are again accessible."

The TCG report said some 41,000 tons of food have been distributed to 881,400 people. More than 2,500 schools have received support, benefiting more than 500,000 children.

According to the TCG's Post-Nargis Joint Assessment, children are particularly at risk following the cyclone, working in the fishing industry or, in some cases, being trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation.

A Save the Children official told the UN humanitarian news service Integrated Regional Information Networks: "Some orphans are extremely vulnerable in the hands of those who give them food and shelter but make them work in hard jobs. The official said the situation called for "urgent intervention."

A UNICEF cyclone report identified 220 orphans, 914 children separated from their parents, 302 "unaccompanied" ones, and 454 judged to be "extremely vulnerable."

Bishow Parajuli, a UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator, said:

"Developing disaster resilient communities is a key priority and this will entail working with national and international partners through 'Disaster Risk Reduction' initiatives across all sectors."

Save the Children said a major area of concern was the provision of clean drinking water, since many wells and other sources were still contaminated.

Save the Children Spokeswoman Shazia Khan said the end of the monsoon season would complicate the situation even further because of the lack of rain water.

Mismanagement and corruption are also hampering the aid effort, according to sources in the Irrawaddy Delta.

A resident of Bogalay Township claimed that local workers for nongovernmental organizations were getting preferential treatment, while village communities were being neglected.