Seven weeks after the cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, the situation in the disaster region continues to be difficult. Despite this, survivors are now returning to their villages in the devastated Irrawaddy Delta Region – but mostly not out of choice.
Cyclone survivors repair their damaged house on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar
Many survivors of the cyclone in Myanmar are going back to their ruined villages in the Irrawaddy Delta. Partly, because they have no other choice. The military junta has begun to dissolve the refugee camps and emergency shelters in the region. ‘’They forced us to leave the refugee camps and return to our villages. We were supposed to get food for 10 days, but when our boat arrived, there was nothing,’’ said U Than Thun, a farmer who lost his home in the disaster.
Refugees promised assistance
Yet there are some who are returning of their own free will. The authorities have assured them financial support for rebuilding their homes. Apart from this, they have also been promised work equipment and machinery for their farms. But some complain that the authorities are now refusing to provide assistance as promised. ‘’They told us that we would get machinery and seeds for our fields. That is why we came back. But the village leaders give us nothing,’’ said Htun Aung, a rice farmer from a village near Labutta.
Agricultural land unfit for cultivation
The Irrawaddy Delta region is known as the Rice Bowl of the country and the whole region. But the entire harvest has been destroyed by the cyclone Nargis. The United Nations estimates that of the total cultivable land of 1.3 million hectares in the Delta, more than 60 per cent has been flooded with salt water. At least 200,000 hectares are said to be unfit for cultivation at present.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has provided seeds, manure, pesticides and agricultural equipment for a new rice harvest in the Irrawaddy delta. This would be sufficient for 15,000 hectares of land.
Another problem in the Irrawaddy Delta is the shortage of fuel for the boats and agricultural machinery. According to United Nations estimates, there will be a demand for around 4.5 Million litres of diesel in the coming months.
Aid efforts still being thwarted
International relief organisations complain that the military junta is still obstructing aid in the disaster region. According to the relief organisation Caritas International, there are many regions of the Irrawaddy Delta that have not received any aid till date. Even local relief efforts by Myanmar's citizens are being thwarted. The exile newspaper ‘Irrawaddy News’ reports that the military authorities have arrested citizen volunteers who distributed relief supplies to the cyclone victims.
Meanwhile, the military authorities denied that they forcibly removed cyclone victims from the shelters. The government's official newspaper 'New Light of Myanmar' claimed that the authorities ''allowed the victims to return home if they wanted to''.
The cyclone Nargis struck in Myanmar in early May, killing over 70,000 people. Millions of people lost their homes and livelihood.