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Burma Still Recovering from Cyclone Nargis


It has been one year since Burma was hit by cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster in the country's history. International emergency aid poured in after some weeks of obstruction from Burma 's military rulers. Victims of Nargis are still dependent on foreign aid for survival. And hoped for political reforms have not materialized.

Cyclone Nargis hit Burma on May 2 last year and the country is still recovering.

The cyclone's 200 kilometer-per-hour winds ripped through the Irrawaddy Delta, driving a 12-foot wall of water through crowded villages.

Nargis killed an estimated 140,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless and in desperate need of clean water and food.

The Thai city of Mae Sot is on the border with Burma and attracts many Burmese refugees and laborers.

It is also a hub for organizations looking to help the Burmese people.

Refugees fear repercussions

A middle-aged Burmese man in Mae Sot told VOA he was there for community development training so he could help his village back home. He says all the houses in his village were destroyed and all the livestock was killed. He says half the population died from cyclone Nargis.

Like most Burmese, he does not want his identity known for fear of repercussions from Burma's military-ruled government.

He says he lost several family members in the massive storm and, although it is one year later, his village is still surviving on foreign aid and getting almost no support from the government. He breaks down with grief.

"Tell the world the truth. The Burmese government claims we have everything we need but, actually, we have nothing," he said.

He says if the world can help the Burmese people, it should please try to help. "I want them to know the truth," he said.

A foreign aid organization provides the man's village with a boat for the three-hour river journey to get drinking water. It has also built the villagers temporary houses.

Throughout the devastated delta, foreign and Burmese organizations are helping the victims of cyclone Nargis with food and medical supplies.

Some roads, homes have been repaired

A Burmese aid worker, also in Mae Sot for training, tells VOA the area he was in last week had been totally destroyed by the cyclone, but now some roads and houses have been rebuilt.

"They need wells. But right now it is the rainy season so we cannot dig any," he said. He says they also need farming machines. "We have provided some but they need more."

International donors have given over $300 million in emergency and reconstruction aid and plans call for almost 700 million more over the next three years.

Disaster response is not encouraging

Mark Canning is the British Ambassador to Burma. At a press briefing in Bangkok last week he told journalists everyone had hopes the disaster response would help bring the country together. But he says the facts of the last year are not encouraging.

"The number of political prisoners in the last 12 months has increased by over 1,000. And, now stands at 2,100 or thereabouts. And, it remains the case that the situation in Burma/Myanmar is characterized by the denial of basic freedoms, whether it's freedom of association, freedom of speech," said Canning. "I mean, it's a very, very repressive place."

For victims of Cyclone Nargis, every day is a struggle for survival.

And while many may still be angry at their government's lack of response, their main concern will soon be the rain.

Tens of thousands are still living in temporary housing, many of them in tents, and the monsoon season is just beginning.

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