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Monks Aid Survivors, Authorities Sell Rooftops

by WAI MOE, The Irrawaddy, May 7, 2008

Rangoon, Burma -- 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.

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

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.

“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.

“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 newspapers—nowhere 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 disaster—but 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 .29) to the authorities for the materials,” said a housewife in Rangoon.

“Then you are lucky - because 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 (.3) per tin roof.”

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Myanmar Cyclone Disaster Fast Facts

Toll as at May 9, 2008

Dead (official)
Missing (official) 41,054
Dead (US estimate) 100,000 plus
Homeless (UN estimate) 1 million- plus

International contributors

$10 million
$3 million
UNITED STATES $3 million
AUSTRALIA $2.8 million
$2 million in aid.
CANADA $2 million
INDONESIA $1 million
SPAIN $775,000
GERMANY $775,000
CHINA $500,000
FRANCE $320,000
GREECE $300,000
JAPAN $267,570
THAILAND $100,000
$2.1 million
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