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Cyclone aid trickles in Myanmar

Five weeks after the storm, aid has arrived in Kennasokyaong - but only in trickles and never enough to treat the needy and the sick among the survivors.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Kennasokyaong
UPDATED ON JUN 08, 2008 11:48 AM IST

A tattered white flag flutters on a pole marking what remains of Kennasokyaong village downriver from Myanmar's town of Bogalay, which was itself nearly wiped out by Cyclone Nargis.

One villager is stationed by the muddy shore every day to make sure that no boat carrying relief goods or medical supplies glides past without being aware of their plight.

Five weeks after the storm, aid has arrived in Kennasokyaong - but only in trickles and never enough to treat the needy and the sick among the survivors, local officials say.

"Many of our children are sick, they have coughs, colds and some are having bouts of dysentery," village administrator Aye Aye Myint, 34, told AFP.

"We need plastic sheetings, and raincoats especially for them. It is raining most of the time and many of us have not rebuilt our houses."

Kennasokyaong, a farming village of about 110 families, is among hundreds of settlements that sit in the mouth of the Irrawaddy river and among the many tributaries that snake into it.

It is only accessible by a small boat from the nearest town of Bogalay, which was also devastated by the storm.

Bogalay used to be a regional trading centre for the delta's farmers but now it is a town surrounded by armed troops who carefully screen for foreigners, including private aid donors.

UN agencies and some foreign charities have managed to get in, bringing food, medicines, and supplies.

These supplies, however, have to go through local officials, and many remain undelivered, stored in state-run warehouses.

Local donors who have relatives in the delta have been filling in the gaps, braving the checkpoints where they hope to receive a day-pass to deliver rice and other supplies.

But many of these volunteers are turned back, either because they cannot show proper national identification cards or because they are accused of smuggling in foreign aid workers wanting to help out.

"The people there are mostly farmers, but our crops are already gone," Aye Aye Myint said, adding that the last aid delivery from the government came three weeks ago, when a Bogalay official gave them small plastic sacks of rice.

"That is already long gone," she said.

Only five houses were left standing there after flash floods triggered by Nargis swamped the village, washing away 40 residents whose bodies have never been found.

The survivors now sleep together in small shelters they cobbled together from scrap wood and debris.

"It is very hard for the children," said village elder Ni, 70, who is left to take care of his three young grandchildren after his daughter, son-in-law and another grandchild were washed away by the floods.

"I cannot rebuild. I am old and now I have young ones to look after."

"We couldn't even find their bodies to give them a proper burial," he said, as he cradles a three-year-old toddler, the youngest of his surviving grandchildren.

"The water came so quickly, it swallowed my house. I tried to help, but could not. I survived by clinging on to a coconut tree," he said. "I saw them being washed away."

Aye Aye Mint says that she has heard that many other villages remain in the same condition, unable to rebuild or plan ahead because they are struggling to survive.

"We had survived, but are now suffering. We don't know when the next boat (carrying relief goods) will arrive," she said, as she inspects four sacks of rice donated by individual volunteers, while the villagers gathered around her anxiously wait for their share.

Many of the children do not have slippers, and are soaked in muddy clothes.

They line the shores as well, scanning the tributary for other boats to arrive. The elderly meanwhile just sit silently in the open, seeking protection from the rain under coconut trees.

They do not mingle or talk, possibly still traumatised by the tragedy.

"We only have this for today," Aye Aye Mint told the crowd as she inspected the rice. "Please be patient, more will arrive soon."

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