Burma: Buddhist monks for cyclone Nargis survivors, Junta’s uniformed for media photo-ops Print E-mail
 Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Monks Aid Survivors, Authorities Sell Rooftops


Scroll down to also read "Burma's Rice Region Decimated - Food Shortage Feared"

The survivors of tropical cyclone Nargis are trying to recover their lives and livelihoods almost without any help from the military government. However, Buddhist monks have emerged to come to the aid of many victims.

Residents in Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta town of Laputta who spoke to The Irrawaddy in the wake of the cyclone said that monks came out of their monasteries and offered assistance to survivors.

Buddhist monks try to move an uprooted tree blocking a street in Rangoon following the passing of Cyclone Nargis. (Photo: AFP)

“I saw monks in Rangoon, after the storm, distributing food to survivors,” a physician in the former capital said. “I also saw monks clearing up fallen trees and rebuilding houses.”

A doctor in Laputta Township, one of the most seriously affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta, said that, after the storm, survivors went to monasteries for food and shelter because there was nowhere else providing aid. “Monks and young people in each town collected money and rice after the storm, and they cooked rice soup for the survivors,” he said.

While Buddhist monks were striving to save lives and aid survivors, the Burmese military authorities were attempting to prevent the monks from getting involved in relief efforts. Burmese military officials ordered monks not to use monasteries as safe houses for survivors and, according to journalists in Rangoon, the Ministry of Information ordered news agencies not to publish photographs of Buddhist monks aiding survivors, working in the streets or rebuilding homes.

Monks clear up roads damaged by cyclone in Rangoon, on May 4. (Photo: AP/Xinhua)

“The authorities won’t allow people to take refuge in monasteries,” a journalist in Rangoon said. “They will only permit people to shelter in schools. Even if the monks want to distribute water to survivors, they have to get permission from the authorities.”

State-run-newspapers and television have repeatedly shown images of high-ranking generals and officers helping survivors and handing out aid packages. However, many survivors in Rangoon have cast doubts on the state media’s reporting.

“The newspapers said the ruling generals and troops encouraged and aided survivors,” a dentist in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “But this has quickly become a standing joke among people in Rangoon. We now say soldiers can only be seen in newspapers­nowhere else.

“My house was destroyed,” he added. “But I don’t see any officials coming to visit me.”

Meanwhile, local authorities in Rangoon began distributing tin roofing materials on Tuesday­ some three days after the disaster­but not for free. And first, rooftops were only being provided to those with military connections.

“You are survivor. But if you want a new roof for your house, you need to pay 4,900 kyat (US $4.29) to the authorities for the materials,” said a housewife in Rangoon.

“Then you are lucky­because what I see is that mostly relatives of local authorities buy those roofing materials and sell them on to ordinary people at an inflated price of 30,000 kyat ($26.3) per tin roof.”
 Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Burma’s Rice Region Decimated

­Food Shortage Feared


Burma’s rice-growing heartland has been devastated by Cyclone Nargis, experts said on Wednesday, posing worries of long-term food shortages for the secretive, impoverished country.

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that five states hit hardest by Saturday's cyclone produce 65 percent of the country's rice. The region also is home to 80 percent of its aquaculture, 50 percent of its poultry and 40 percent of its pig production, the FAO said.

Laborers transport rice on tricycles in the outskirts of Rangoon. The deadly cyclone that struck the country devastated its main rice-growing region and could threaten exports meant to ease shortages in other Asian nations. (Photo: AFP)

Of most concern is the rice production, since the impoverished country has produced enough to feed itself and, more recently, stave off the rising prices that have hit other parts of the region.

"There is likely going to be incredibly shortages in the next 18 to 24 months," said Sean Turnell, an economist specializing in Burma at Australia's Macquarie University. "Things will be tough."

The world's top rice producer before World War II, Burma has in the past four decades seen its rice exports drop from nearly 4 million tons per year to only about 600,000 tons this year.

The country's exports are so small these days that few expect the cyclone to have any impact on world rice prices.

Mostly due to the mismanagement by the country's ruling generals, the country's road network and rice storage facilities have fallen into disrepair and such things as fertilizer and credit for farmers is almost nonexistent.

Now, the country must confront the reality that entire rice-growing regions are under water. Many of the roads and bridges needed to transport what crop can be salvaged may have been destroyed by the cyclone.

The UN World Food Program, which has started feeding the estimated 1 million homeless people in Burma, said there are immediate concerns about salvaging harvested rice in the flooded Irrawaddy delta, known as the country's rice bowl. It also warned that the rice harvest in the Pegu Division could be lost since it was still in the ground, and future plantings in the delta could be threatened due to "salinity and decrease of nutrients" from the storm's tidal surges.

The FAO also predicted that annual crops of rice along with oil palm and rubber plantations "are expected" to be damaged in areas hit by the cyclone. They are sending in an assessment team in the coming days to have a closer look.

"There is risk that stored rice seeds kept by farmers­usually under poor storage facilities­might be affected by the cyclone," the FAO said in a statement. "Some rice crops under irrigation might be affected, if not yet harvested."

The cyclone, which battered the country last weekend with winds of 190 kph (120 mph) and 3.5 meter (11.48 feet) storm water surges, caused at least 22,000 deaths.