Dispatch from Burma
May 21, 2008
Rangoon, May 20. I am staying in a house without electricity, and at night I write by candlelight, the battery on my laptop dwindling, draining. In the mornings, I go to one of the city’s high-end hotels for the Internet connection. I want reliable information about the ravaged fishing villages and rice farming communities in the Delta. I seek people out for their stories”executives, aid workers, doctors.
A businessman who has just returned from the worst-hit south-western part of the Delta in a private boat loaded with supplies, shows me film footage of villages that are nothing more than piles of water-logged timber. Shocked survivors huddle under make-shift shelters, with no access to relief supplies or medicine. Pointing to villages further south, in areas not yet reached by any aid two weeks after the storm, they say blankly into the camera, “Down there, it is even worse.”
Later, a man who has been delivering medicine to affected villages tells me about canals clogged with dead bodies and people with terrible wounds, succumbing to gangrene. There is no medical assistance. Well water has been contaminated. People are afraid to fish in the rivers because of the thousands of corpses that still float there. There is the fear that epidemics will breakout among the survivors, he says, sending the death toll higher.
A Burmese doctor mobilising small teams of medical staff to set up a clinic in one Delta town is preparing to deal with immediate medical concerns: skin infections and lacerations, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. “Most have nowhere to go,” she says. “They have nothing left. Some of them were naked after the storm. They have no home left and no family. Nothing.”
Roads, bridges, entire villages have been washed away. School, hospital, and monastery buildings destroyed. There are wider repercussions. The Delta is a major rice-growing region for the entire country; rice warehouses, stocked with the recent harvest collapsed in the storm, and paddy land has been rendered unusable due to excessive saline content caused by sea water flooding.
Yet to be assessed is the psychological toll. A Burmese journalist, who has just returned from an area where people were taking shelter in monasteries, said survivors stopped a man who had lost his home and family from slitting his own throat.
So many horrors not yet known, but the evidence coming out through private channels indicates that the damage is much, much worse than has been reported and that Cyclone Nargis will have a devastating effect on the affected population for months, for years to come.
About our blog, In AsiaIn Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].
ContactFor questions about In Asia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
THE LATEST ACROSS ASIA
Carnegie India Centre: Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia
February 27, 2017
The Asia Foundation Partners with MasterCard and Vietnam Bank for Social Policies on Mobile Banking Service
February 23, 2017
The Power of the Political Voice: Women as Voters, Candidates and Activists
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Better Legal Education Key to Strengthening Rule of Law in Afghanistan
February 22, 2017
Six Stories, Six Paths to Development Online Platforms as Drivers of Inclusive Growth
February 20, 2017
President Trump and the Future of US-Asia Relations: A View from the West Coast
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Asian Views on America's Role in Asia
Recommendations for the Incoming U.S. President on Policy Towards Asia