Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December 2014, 12:47 GMT

Myanmar: Survivors try to come to terms with their loss

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Myanmar: Survivors try to come to terms with their loss, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50281e.html [accessed 25 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

TAUNG CAUNG, 19 June 2008 (IRIN) - Monasteries in Myanmar have long been revered as a place of refuge and healing and last month's devastating cyclone - which left more than 130,000 people dead or missing when it slammed into the country's southern Ayeyarwady Delta - was no exception.

"Villagers ran to the monastery. They had nowhere to go," Saayadaw U T Lawka, head monk of the Maha Thein Kyaung monastery in the village of Taung Caung in the delta's Kawhmu Township, told IRIN.

At the height of the cyclone, villagers and monks alike sought refuge behind the monastery's ancient stone walls, staying two days before returning to their homes.

"The government hasn't been back in this village after delivering some sacks of rice for the monastery. Now we rely greatly on private donors for our daily sustenance," he said.

Of the 400 houses in the village, only 20 are still standing, including two of the four houses inside the monastery. The villagers have taken advantage of the abundance of bamboo and palm trees felled by the cyclone to reconstruct their homes.

Today, Saayadaw UT Lawka and the rest of Taung Caung's residents are hoping to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.

But not everyone has the courage to move on.

Daw Saw Mya, 80, is still haunted by memories of the cyclone and trembles with fear that it might happen again whenever she hears the wind or a light drizzle begins.

She was in her hut in the village with her youngest son when the category four storm struck.

"I held on to a bamboo branch the whole night and didn't let go until the morning. Then my son carried me to his house only to find that it had been demolished," she said.

Rebuilding efforts

Such stories are common throughout the cyclone-affected area, almost the size of Austria.

In the village of Hnarkhaung Chaung, in Yangon Division, some 150 people were killed and all 105 houses destroyed.

Even now, more than six weeks later, many of the bodies of those who perished have yet to be found ? and most likely will not be.

But the villagers of Hnarkhaung Chaung are already busy trying to reconstruct their homes.

Like other villagers in the area, residents have received the staple relief package of a mosquito net, a blanket and tarpaulin, as well as some cooking ingredients.

In addition, some private donors have offered residents farming equipment and tools ? just in time for planting this year's paddy fields.

However, most are not so lucky.

Pho Htaung, a 46-year-old farmer from the village, lost seven members of his family, including his niece, in the cyclone.

"My niece is in good hands now and is at peace," Pho Htaung said. "We who survived are the ones suffering and troubled as to how to survive and live our lives after the cyclone."

Warning unheeded

Some residents recall how one day before the cyclone struck, one of the villagers hurried back from the main town of Kum Yangon after hearing an announcement on the radio that a cyclone was about to hit the delta.

But nobody took his warning seriously and he was told to relax and take it easy. It hit the next night instead, leaving some 2.4 million destitute.

Pho Htaung's brother, who is also a monk in the village monastery, was the first to begin helping victims of Nargis, distributing food and relief until new supplies could be brought in.

"We are all taking precautionary measures now," said Pho Htaung. "Each house has an elevated level made out of bamboo so when the water rises again we can just run up there to avoid drowning."

ds/mw


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