Burma Cyclone Nargis Trustee Account

    Trustee Eye Witness Account - 29-05-2008

    We set out from Yangon at 06:30. After a difficult six hour journey we arrived at MYAUNG MAI, the main town in the Irrawaddy District. Here there were approximately 2000 refugees residing in makeshift refugee camps. The main camps were based within the compounds of Mosques, Schools and Temples.

    The majority of refugees have come from villages surrounding Lapputa Township. There are approximately 54 villages in and around the Delta with approximately 200-300 homes in each village. Most villages have been completely wiped out by the Cyclone.

    UWT has arranged a food aid programme for the refugees. Some of the rations were supplied by the people of Yangon and UWT arranged the slaughter of 3 COWS every 4 days. The meat would be used as part of the food preparation. The food was prepared 3 times daily and distributed amongst all the refugees. In addition each refugee received an allowance of 10,000 Kyat’s (£5) to help with meet their immediate needs.

    Other provisions i.e. clothes, blankets and tents had already been supplied by the good people of Yangon.

    The medicine donated by the Pharmacists in the UK was handed over to a team of medical experts who were operating in this region as they could utilise the medicine as part of their treatment of the refugees. Many refugees required medical assistance for treatment of colds, coughs, weakness, diarrhoea, malaria and, aches & pains.

    A number of refugees were based at a local school. They were later moved to a disused Warehouse which was in a dire condition. It was reported that several refugees died due to snake and scorpion bites.

    On the next day of our trip, we set off to visit surrounding villages on the Irrawaddy Delta majority, which had not received any aid. This trip had to be conducted by boat. Before we set  off on the advice of locals we purchased Mosquito Nets, Blankets and clothing as well as essential medicine to distribute amongst the survivors.

    • Mosquito Nets 500
    • Blankets 500
    • Clothing (lungui) 800 for men and Women.

    It took us ten hours by boat to reach one of the remote villages on the Delta. The trip was very difficult and we encountered heavy rain and difficult waves along the way.

    A resident of this village relayed his account of the day the cyclone struck. The cyclone lasted over seven hours. Most people took refuge in the local school and a brick building next to the School. On the day of the cyclone the families of the teachers were also residing within the compounds of the School. The house was totally demolished and 25 people lost their lives. The School roof was damaged but there was no loss of life. Survivors had reported that the waves were coming up to their necks and some even higher than coconut trees. Many houses had toppled on their sides. The cyclone was described as hitting their houses with extreme force from all sides, like it was squeezing the house until the roof would lift off and the house would fall.

    The next morning we set out and started sailing along the delta to witness the devastation. Many villages had been totally destroyed and we couldn't see a single house standing for miles and any remaining survivors had fled. There was still a strong stench of death in the air and twenty days later I could still see dead bodies and carcases of animals lying around with nobody to see to their burial. I noticed that there was no major relief work taking place within the Delta region. Throughout the journey I didn't encounter a single relief worker. Along the way we stopped at 4 villages to conduct surveys and distribute aid.

    • Myintpoat
    • Betut
    • Donchua
    • Latachua

    Here we met the survivors and asked about their condition. The main concern of the refugees was that they desperately needed shelter and mosquito nets. As we carried out our survey we identified 41 families for whom we decided to build homes. The homes will be built with local material and costs approximately 100,000 Kayats (£50) each. Instructions were given to our local representatives and the homes will only take days to build. This will suffice for the people for the short term. For the long term, when wood becomes more widely available, we could consider building more permanent homes. However, our local guides and representatives have explained to us, that this is how most people used to live before and only the odd house would be constructed with wood.

    We distributed aid in each village to the people most in need. We also decided to provide aid to a further 100 families who needed food assistance. We made arrangements for the following items to be provided to each family:

    • Rice 49kg bag
    • Oil 2kg
    • Onions 10kg
    • Potato 10kg
    • Lentils 10kg
    • Chilli 2kg
    • Salt 5kg
    • Candles 10 packets

    Another major need of the survivors was clean drinking water. Each village has a small reservoir which collects rain water for drinking. These were now contaminated and needed to be pumped out and cleansed, to allow fresh rain water to be collected for drinking. We made arrangements for this in several villages, by providing them with the diesel to operate the machinery {you cannot dig wells here as the water is salty due to the delta region}.

    Our last stop was Lapputa. This was the town where the majority of the refugees were residing and the main area where other aid agencies were working. Lapputta is the last point where you can travel by road, after this point, all travel has to be by boat. We spent the night here. The next day we visited the refugees residing here and provided allowances of 10,000 Kayats (£5) to 313 refugees. We also made arrangements here for the purchase of food parcels for the 100 families residing within the delta and instructed our local fieldworker to start dispatching the aid immediately. We have also instructed our local fieldworkers to survey the rest of the 50 villages and identify the need of the people as we had done with the 4 villages. Food aid and homes will be provided for all needy people. We then made our return journey to MYAUNG MAI and then back to Yangon, which was a difficult 15 hours by road and arrived back in Yangon at 05:00 the next day.

    Throughout my visit I spoke to many families who had lost everything. Many survivors of the Cyclone had lost loved ones some had lost over 200 members of their families. Also there were many villages where only the men survived as they had gone to work that day which met travelling to the other side of the delta region. Sadly on returning back to their villages they witnessed that there were no survivors. Many have still not been able to track down the bodies of their loved ones.  One thing I noticed which was heartening was that despite of all their suffering the survivors were still ready to help each other and showed great determination to start rebuild their lives.

    The remaining 3 days of my trip was spent visiting the Villages surrounding the Yangon area which was also hit by the Cyclone. We visited Samar Ward. Seikgyikhanaung Toe Township. This is a short boat trip from Yangon. The population here is approximately 350 and 120 homes. We identified 13 new homes and one Jamat Khana that needed to be rebuilt. The residents complained about the bad condition of the paths leading to the Jamat Khana and explained that when it has rained heavily it becomes impossible to visit. UWT consulted the locals and arranged for a concrete path to be constructed to aid the people frequenting the Jamat Khana.

    The next day we visited Dalla via boat. Here we identified 10 families that were still living within the compound of the Buddhist Temples. Our priority was to provide alternative accommodation for these families as the condition they were living in was dire. We had a meeting with the Chief Buddhist Monk and agreed to build 10 homes for the families identified.

    We later set off for KaugYangon village and also visited the cyclone area via boat. Here we identified 160 families who we will provide for rations. Our friends also decided to build 13 new homes.